The NBA season is all but gone.
For the past two months I've been reminded why I have never had any interest in being a business reporter.
While I know that the optics of labour negotiations are never quite what they seem - posturing and sabre-rattling are mere tools - the group formerly known as the NBA Players' Association's "disclaimer of interest" is a development, that this late in the game, will likely ensure no NBA basketball in the winter of 2011-12 - and perhaps even beyond.
Of course the war terminology ramped up afterward. David Stern said it will usher in the NBA's "nuclear winter," a term coined by scientist Carl Sagan during the hair-trigger Cold War days of Ronald Reagan, Yuri Andropov and Red Dawn.
Battle in courtroom, not the courts
With the union effectively disbanding, the matter will now go before the courts. The players are taking a massive risk here. Nobody wants to go to trial against a team of billionaires - especially a group of guys waiting on paycheques. And as former NBA exec Stan Kasten pointed out Monday, as many as 20 NBA owners will be losing less money by not playing games.
The players are banking on some form of positive early result - like a summary judgment - in U.S. court, and ultimately a settlement. A lockout by the owners, which is legal, could be deemed an illegal group boycott under U.S. antitrust law.
By no means am I a law expert, but the odds of this happening: Slim to none. If the players don't get a result like that, they will collapse faster than Penn State University's public image.
So what's the end result?
This season will be lost. Like the majority of NHL owners in 2004-05, the NBA is willing to burn the house down in an attempt to save it. I'm sure we will have NBA basketball in '12-13, the way we had NHL hockey in '05-06 - under a much different economic system.
In the meantime, the fans are jumping ship. But Stern and Co. know that the NHL has enjoyed a U.S. renaissance of sorts since their "Armageddon," and in their minds have no reason to believe the same thing won't happen here. And while the worst economic climate since the Great Depression could throw a monkey wrench into that theory, it's also a main reason they are this galvanized in the first place. The league's previous system was a failure, even if it was its own fault.
I've received a lot of "who cares" reactions over the last two months, but most of those people aren't basketball fans anyways.
Raptors on solid foundation
There will assuredly be a few people using this situation to again sound the death knell for the Toronto Raptors, but in the grand scheme of things, Toronto represents one of the more solid franchise locations in the league: A higher-revenue team that strictly as a marketplace is richer than two-thirds of the rest of the league's cities.
Theoretically, this is being done to save the Oklahoma City's and Indiana's of the world.
It will certainly take the NBA longer to dig itself out of this hole and win back fans than it took the NHL - simply because it's on a bigger scale in different conditions.
Looking ahead to that is basically where we are. There's realistically a month to get something done before the season has to be completely scuttled. Don't hold your breath.
In the meantime, bring on the NCAA.
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