One of the greatest months of the year for the American sports fans is October. You get the World Series, the NFL season (hiting the quarter mark), Hockey (in full swing) and college football (every Thursday through Saturday). What’s missing from the mix this year?
NBA owners and players, mired in a lockout that has resulted in the first month of games being cancelled, are denying fans a follow up to one of the highest rated, most exciting NBA seasons in years.
However there is some hope, if you are starved for slam dunks, ankle-breaking crossovers and incredible three pointers. Just look South: to Mexico.
This week kicked off the basketball competition of the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, and during the four-day tournament you can see some of your favorite NBA stars participate on teams from their respective nations in a contest that suddenly gains more significance given the lack of basketball back in the states. While names like Tiago Spliter (San Antonio Spurs), JJ Barea (Dallas Mavericks) and Eduardo Najera (Charlotte Bobcats) aren’t household names for most NBA fans, these stars are the closest thing that most basketball fans will get to the real thing before the end of the month.
Mind you, the United States will be fielding a team during the Pan-American Games – a roster full of NBA Development League players who have about as much a chance against today’s international competition as Obama has of dunking on Kobe in a game of one on one.
Ironically, on October 30th (the last day of the Pan-American games) the NBA’s true royalty, stars like Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and LeBron James – along with 14 others – will begin a six game, four continent tour of exhibitions featuring stops in England and Australia. I say to NBA Commissioner David Stern as well as NBA Union leader Billy Hunter: what is wrong with this picture?
The fact that Americans might have a better chance of seeing NBA action on Telemundo than on TNT for the next few weeks is bad enough. But when you add to that the utter inability of both sides in the current labor stand-off to recognize the potential long term damage of a lockout to the sustainability of the NBA, the current lack of games is all the more … no … most ridiculous. What distinguishes this lockout from previous labor battles with the NHL and the more recent NFL is that for the first time in years the owners and the players might have to accept a harsh reality that neither wants to face. As usual, the owners are poor mouthing and Commissioner David Stern says the league lost hundreds of millions last season even though the 2010-2011 NBA season was the most watched and highest attended NBA season since Michael Jordan retired in 1998. Owners are willing to lose a whole season if that’s what it takes to break the union and get a better deal. Seven NBA team owners also own Hockey franchises and have been telling their colleagues that the lost NHL season was worth it since it resulted in permanently weakening the Hockey players union.
The players rightfully argue that most teams are not losing money, and leaked data from several franchises seems to confirm the accusation.
Furthermore, players argue that it is not their fault if franchises offer bad deals to risky draft picks or pay out idiotic contracts. Why should all player salaries and benefits get slashed because owners spend their money like drunken college kids in Tijuana?
What both sides might want to recognize, however, is that in the wake of our lingering recession and the changing habits of fans, more and more Americans would rather stay at home and watch a game (or several) on a large flat-screen HD (and eventually 3-D) television rather than shell out $250.00 for tickets, parking and stale hot-dogs to see their local team hoop. If these trends continue the entire pie for players and owners might shrink in the coming years and thus, to avoid contracting franchises or making more draconian cuts a mutual agreement might be needed.
In the meantime you have NBA scrubs/scabs playing games in Mexico, international stars taking on the banners of their national teams and NBA superstars doing a vanity tour across the globe while fans at home stay frustrated. This is a public relations nightmare for anyone who cares about the future of the sport or continuing the momentum of what was one of the best, most competitive and exciting NBA seasons of all time. The one saving grace is that all but the most die-hard of NBA fans right now are not grabbing their pitchforks and kerosene … just yet. Most casual fans don’t begin paying attention to basketball in earnest until February, after the Super Bowl and the BCS championship when there’s nothing else to watch. If the owners and players can get their issues solved by then the vast majority of the fans won’t really miss what happened. However, if the lockout lingers and possibly erases the entire season, it could take years to win back an angry and disappointed fan base – baseball and hockey both learned that lesson. So for the next two weeks as the NBA labor negotiations continue to go South, South of the Border might be the only place for NBA fans to run to.
This article originally appeared at Politic365.com.