This was not how it was supposed to go. Not at all. My first piece for The Classical should’ve been about something like The Rise Of Monta Ellis instead of a mewling whine-fest about The Seemingly Permanent Absence Of My Favorite Sport That I Am Now On The Hook To Write About Because You Guys Gave Us A Lot Of Money To Start This Site. But I’m not the one locking out the players, so this is where I’m living right now.
If I’m frustrated over the NBA being mired in a lockout that seems to be getting worse with each passing day—what happens when the holidays are over and Build-A-Bear doesn’t need Steve Blake to stock shelves after the Christmas crush?—I only have myself to blame. I honestly didn’t think we’d end up here. All the talk of lockouts through the spring did not spook me one bit. Yes, I heard the panicked screams of those pointing toward the horizon, warning of team owners willing to flush an entire season down the tubes in an effort to remodel the league in the image of the NHL. I didn’t believe, partly because I couldn’t imagine a sport whose post-season lives on a television channel best known—in my house, at least—for airing Chuck Norris’sWorld Combat League would embody the ideal business model for the NBA.
I thought that the asses would all do their braying and David Stern would continue his cheap personal attacks (singling out Eddy Curry as an example of bad business? Hasn’t he suffered enough?); before push came to shove things would straighten out before the whole thing went south. After all, the owners wouldn’t let something as dopey and temporal as figuring out how to split up piles of money get in the way of furthering the narrative of the 2010-11 season, right?
Ah, the 2010-11 season. Is there a better example of the stars completely aligning? Heroes became villains, losers became heroes, youth was served to a point but in the end the old dogs pulled one out for the big win—the kind of stuff that movie executives reject for being too on the nose.
And it wasn’t just the big through lines, like ‘Will the Heat finally get their act together?’ or ‘Are the Celtics too old to make another run at it?’ that I was dying to see unfold. This season is presumptively the end of the New Jersey Nets, and watching the strange, failed experiment that was Garden State basketball come to a sad and soft conclusion was unexpectedly important to me. Maybe I bought too many cheapo Nets tickets over the years—my first fantasy squad was called the Yinka Dinka Dogs!—but the team deserved one final season in New Jersey. But now all we’ve got is speculating on who’ll be the first player to require a US military rescue mission out of Slovenia.
I didn’t realize how on edge I’d been about all of this—except for the moments when I entertained the notion of pretending to know/care enough about football to write about it for this site—until the first legitimate rumor of the lockout ending dropped. I was watching Mike Francesa on YES one afternoon last week (sue me, I like watching people peel labels off 16-ounce bottles of Diet Coke) when he interrupted the top of the hour sports update with a breaking story: former Knicks president Dave Checketts announced that a collective bargaining agreement had been agreed to based on inside knowledge he had with friends who were “close to the process.” And for the first time since any of this went down, I let myself get excited. Every anticipatory feeling I had for the return of the NBA came flooding back. I began the process of wrapping my head about the pros and cons of a 70-ish-game season and gearing up for things to return to some state of normalcy.
Fast forward three days and the league is in worse shape than ever, making me realize that if the powers that be cobble together a 2011-12 season it’ll be a lot closer to the travesty that was the lockout-shortened 50-game season in ’99. Which would be something, but at this point I’m kinda ready to just let the whole thing drop dead.
But I will not fold in the face of this disaster. I will continue to blame the owners for this mess—if they didn’t have to be such dicks about this whole situation they could’ve let the players leave the table with a portion of their dignity and deal for both sides. But they had to push it all the way down the line. Besides, rooting for management is like rooting for the cops who smashed up Zuccotti Park, or Jay Leno.
So while I miss the games, it’s the players that I root for. So I’m glad that they’re sticking to their guns while fears about money are at an all-time high. It’s a great sign to see young guys like Kemba Walker digging in on Twitter (although Amar’e isn’t exactly doing himself any favors.)
The sport I was planning on writing about for The Classical is gone for the foreseeable future. But I will not be deterred. And I will do it with transparency, in front of you guys. I am a man without a country trying to find a new home. Kind of like that Spielberg movie with Tom Hanks stuck at an airport.
Talking about The Terminal in my first column? I’m fucked. Please come back, NBA. And hurry.