I haven't written anything of note, here or elsewhere, for quite a few months now. There's an obvious reason for that, and it's the same for most people: apathy has well and truly set in now as far as the NBA is concerned.

Some will suggest that the bleak future of the Suns contributes to that apathy - the realisation that the Nash Era is all but dead and that chances of a championship are almost certainly gone now. It is a little depressing, considering the several talented rosters that, in my eyes, were good enough to win it all. There's no denying that.

But I dismiss that suggestion. It's been a while since the Suns have had a truly awful team, so I may regret saying this: so long as the Suns are playing, I'm satisfied.


Not necessarily satisfied with the team's achievements and performances, no, but satisfied with the presence of the NBA and a Phoenix Suns team to avidly follow. That's something I've been doing pretty much all my life, ever since I was bitten by the NBA bug at about 8 years old. I imagine for many of you reading this, you're the same - you followed the Suns (or any other NBA team) from a young age and have continued through to this day.

Here's the thing though - I'm British.

I can't stress enough how much of a non factor basketball and the NBA is in Britain. We are a nation of mostly football, rugby and cricket lovers (the latter two of which are awfully boring, yes). In recent years there's been a growth in interest, but nothing overly significant. Luol Deng put the spotlight on basketball a little, and with Britain hosting the 2012 Olympics (along with a Team GB competing in the basketball) there has been a bit of a lift.
 
However, there's no NBA shown on domestic television, and about a game a week aired on our adaptation of ESPN, if you subscribe to that. The NBA have tried their best with a few NBA preseason and then regular season games played in London, but really, there's a long, long way to go.

Growing up, I was blessed to move abroad, and that's where I got a taste of the NBA. I'll never forget the first NBA game I saw, the Suns vs the Supersonics some time around 1993. That memory stuck with me forever. Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Shawn Kemp...I vividly remember seeing them on my TV.

From that moment, I was hooked, despite not really knowing what was happening. It was less than a week before I had my dad installing a basketball hoop outside. For hours each day after school, I'd be practicing the moves I'd seen on TV. In case you're wondering: I struggled with some of Kemp's dunks, but managed to get the hang of Sir Charles' free throw routine.

The NBA bug had bitten me, and it changed my childhood.

That's the power that the NBA can have. It's a powerful product which can bring so much joy and excitement to people all across the globe, people from non-basketball surroundings like myself who would be totally oblivious to the NBA otherwise.

Fast forward almost 20 years, and I'm still well and truly an NBA fan. I'm batshit insane enough to wake up around 3am every other day to watch the Suns live via International League Pass. On top of that, last season I flew all the way over there to take in a 5 game homestand, pretty much a childhood dream of mine since...forever.

I'm obviously not the only one with these kind of commitments, I'm sure. There'll be plenty of international fans who make the same crazy commitments, both time wise and financially, to follow their NBA team. That's despite maybe not having any real connection to the team, city or state of their chosen franchises.

And this is what pisses me right off - that utter comtempt shown by the league to us fans, international or otherwise, who go through so much to support the teams and league. Breaking through to new markets like Britain and growing the game here, the NBA needs its fanbase, even if it is currently tiny. And yet, they couldn't give a shit.

There's been no apology (if there has been, I've missed it), no acknowledgement of us fans, and in my eyes there's been no real effort early on to try and avoid this. It's like they wanted it to happen. Hunter says he saw this coming years ago, so why not do something then? How many weeks and months since the lockout actually began before these guys even bothered to have significant meetings? It's been too little, too late. They couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery, and it pisses me off.

They know we love the league. They know it's almost like a religion for some of us, so they know we'll be back. And I won't kid anyone, I surely will be back. I need it back. That said, if the league thinks they can treat us in this way without repercussions, they should probably think again. I hope I'm not in the minority of people planning to drastically cut back their financial spend on NBA merchandise and such. We may be powerless now, but once the season eventually starts, we can make ourselves heard. Not happy with this lockout? Then don't give them your money, it's that simple.

Perhaps when the owners and players have finally agreed on how to divide their billions of dollars, they'll start seeing that there'll actually be a few less billions (well, millions) to divide when they treat fans this way. Not just because of any backlash, but also because they have totally shot themselves in the foot with the timing of this lockout. From an international perspective, here's why.

All through this lockout all I can think of is my childhood years discovering the NBA and the way it changed me. That was in the early 90's though. This is 2011. Consider that there'll now be what, ten times, twenty times the number of kids in far flung international places getting bitten by the NBA bug like I did? So many future fans will be lost through this disaster.

The explosion of the internet and social media means it's a lot easier to get hooked nowadays than it used to be. To illustrate this point, I used to follow the NBA in the early to mid 90's through weekly episodes of NBA Action that would be broadcast, along with reading a tiny scores report in one of the back pages of the papers, along with a game or so a week which I'd tape and watch numerous times. Even if it was the Lakers.

Then the internet arrived. Oh boy. Another vivid memory of mine is sitting there at around 8am in the morning, dialing up with a 56k modem, loading up Netscape Navigator (sigh) and going on ESPN.com to see if the Suns had beat the SuperSonics in the playoffs. It was just a box score that needed to be refreshed, but I sat there clicking away nonstop. The Suns were down 3 and there were only seconds left. Then it was tied. Rex Chapman hit that shot.

It was just numbers on a screen, but it was as exciting as anything for me. Hell, I even persuaded my parents to pay for a Fastbreak magazine subscription (remember that?), even though only about 1 in 3 copies ever made it to my mailbox. That's what it was like back then, a real effort.

Now? I subscribe to International League Pass, so I have NBA games on tap. There's plenty of top quality websites, this one included, to get my NBA fix. Then there's social media like Twitter, where I'm able to 1. follow the Suns and half their roster on Twitter, even interacting with some of them from time to time, 2. interact and discuss with fellow fans and get to know some great people. In other words, a truly amazing, enhanced fan experience, nothing like back in the day where the best you could do is submit questions to online NBA.com chats (even though I remember the time John "Hot Rod" Williams answered one of my questions and it made my week).

All of this combined means this is a great new era in which to follow the NBA, regardless of age. They are blessed with a product which is incredibly strong in terms of internet and media presence. They cover social media better than any other sport. And obviously, the league is more popular than ever, even if it's not terribly competitive and equal. If ever there was a time to have a league up and running, it's now.

Fans will be lost, I've no doubt. In the 1998 lockout, I lost interest in the NBA so much that I actually started to get hooked on the NHL instead for a good 6 months or so. Of course, I always had my football (English Premier League), but after being hooked on one American sport, that's what you do at that age. You find something similar to fill the void. The 1998 NBA lockout is the only reason I know of Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk.

Lost revenue, lost fans, lost faith and lost respect. The damage they're doing to themselves internationally can't be underestimated. More fool them.


Or not.  I don’t know about you, but I get the distinct feeling that the NBA labor discord is about two groups of ultra-rich, egomaniacal, and narcissistic people fighting over which side will get even richer through the “equitable” division of a huge pile of cash.  This doesn’t feel like my feelings are being considered at all.  I don’t feel fantastic.  Not at all.

I’m not the average fan.  I have to use detachment and projection to gauge the pulse.  Average fans don’t write lockout stories on team fan pages.  Average fans may not even know what PER, BRI, or STAT even stand for.  Lots of them, however, are familiar with the acronym FU.  The NBA can pretty safely assume that I’m in the fold whenever they tidy up their sordid affairs.  I’m bought in.  The average fan – not so much.  This is a bad time for a lockout.  Rich people fighting over money during a multi-generational economic nadir displays very poor discretion.  Some people are angry.  Some are tuned out.  If the league doesn’t play its cards carefully, some may not tune back in. 

The league and its constituents have given people plenty to be disdainful, distrustful, and disenfranchised about during the current debacle.  This is, after all, the NBA – “Where fan alienation happens.”  

Or not.  I don’t know about you, but I get the distinct feeling that the NBA labor discord is about two groups of ultra-rich, egomaniacal, and narcissistic people fighting over which side will get even richer through the “equitable” division of a huge pile of cash.  This doesn’t feel like my feelings are being considered at all.  I don’t feel fantastic.  Not at all.

I’m not the average fan.  I have to use detachment and projection to gauge the pulse.  Average fans don’t write lockout stories on team fan pages.  Average fans may not even know what PER, BRI, or STAT even stand for.  Lots of them, however, are familiar with the acronym FU.  The NBA can pretty safely assume that I’m in the fold whenever they tidy up their sordid affairs.  I’m bought in.  The average fan – not so much.  This is a bad time for a lockout.  Rich people fighting over money during a multi-generational economic nadir displays very poor discretion.  Some people are angry.  Some are tuned out.  If the league doesn’t play its cards carefully, some may not tune back in. 

The league and its constituents have given people plenty to be disdainful, distrustful, and disenfranchised about during the current debacle.  This is, after all, the NBA – “Where fan alienation happens.”  

David Stern – He was hated before this started.  He is the embodiment of a smug, arrogant prick.  Never in the history of mankind may a person’s name have been more expressive of his character.  The dictionary defines stern as firm, strict, uncompromising, hard, harsh, severe, rigorous, austere, grim, forbidding, or (my favorite) an unpleasantly serious character.  Is it any wonder that the players are having a hard time negotiating with a person whose last name means uncompromising?  Stern’s saving grace has always been that, despite his shortcomings, he is a perspicuous and astute fellow who has employed several successful strategies that have grown the league.  Now he is endangering his legacy.  This is the second work stoppage on his watch.  With the personal stigma already attached to him, he really needed the notoriety of professional success to have something to hang his hat on at the end of the day.  The view of professional success is unraveling.  The ending is being written to the story of his administration and it may more closely approximate a greasefire than the happily ever after I’m sure he wished for.

Billy Hunter – Let’s face it.  Not too many people know much about Billy Hunter.  That’s kind of the problem.  Whereas Stern’s name is synonymous with his behavior, Hunter’s is quite the opposite.  One definition of a hunter is a person who searches for or seeks something.  In this case I think the something might be labor peace or a new CBA.  Is he seeking this solution, because it doesn’t really seem like he’s a very crucial cog?  Just as Stern is the principal for the owners, Hunter should be the spokesperson for the union.  Derek Fisher seems to be more assertive and visible in the press.  Since when is he a professional negotiator?  (Just noticed they have a Hunter and a Fisher…maybe a Camper should be brought in to complete the great outdoor connection).  Hunter is doing an inadequate job.  If nothing else, he should be trying to deflect antagonism from the players to himself to help with their public persona. 

Hobby owners vs. livelihood owners - Hardline owners like Robert Sarver, the pride of Phoenix, have embodied a faction who want to crush the players under their collective iron fist.  They give the impression that professional basketball should be played in Indonesian sweat shops.  Their stance and participation in the negotiating process has evoked feelings of derision and contempt from segments of the fanbase and media.  There appear  to be two types of owners.  One collection’s interest in their teams is primarily based on the love of basketball, trying to win, and the enjoyment that comes along with involvement in the franchise.  Who wouldn’t want to own a professional sports team – isn’t it a dream come true?  They make money in other pursuits or are lucky enough to already have a lucrative financial situation relative to the NBA.  Like most fans, they aren’t necessarily in it to profit off of their “hobby”.  The team provides them enjoyment and an outlet for competition, and if they sustain an absorbable loss, so be it.  The other group (mostly the new owners) wants to have their cake and eat it too.  Playboy billionaires with golden parachutes.  Guaranteed profit surety.  Foam finger waving fans with a tidy CBA deal that protects them from their own ineptitude and precludes the possibility of a loss.  The fans face risk every day in their financial dealings, why should the owners be exempt?

Mixing politics and sports – The labor negotiations tread on uncomfortable ground.  The systemic issues of the work stoppage and the battle of ownership vs. the union has many parallels to political ideologies.  It feels far too familiar to a rich versus poor debate (with the poor people being millionaires) or a democrat vs. republican polemic.  Big business vs. union rhetoric.  Most people don’t want politics crossing over into their sports.  Sports are a haven for relief from the issues with real gravity in their everyday lives.  People already have supercilious sentiment concerning politics stemming from the misgivings of America’s fearless leaders.  Now is not a good time to be thought of in the light of a political arena.  Fans don’t want to hear the involved parties pontificating or sermonizing on why they’re right and the other party is to blame.  It feels like political jargon and mudslinging.  They don’t care, they just want results. 

Agree upon a bottom line – Someone should teach these guys to play nice.  People have to work with undesirable coworkers every day.  Part of life is making concessions.  People don’t always get what they want.  The two sides can’t play nice, they can’t share, and they can’t even tell the truth (this is kind of sounding like politics again…).  Why is it, this far into the imbroglio, that the sides can’t agree upon the exact financial viability of the league?  It would seem that if the owners and the union could first agree on whether or not the league is losing money and exactly how much, it would make it easier to decide a split that ensures the survival of the league.  The players have publicly stated that they don’t believe the owners figures.  The media describes it as a gray area open to interpretation.  With this much at stake it seems rational that putting the accountants to work in the nerdery to settle on a consensus profit/loss figure would make it easier for the other dominos to fall.

Star visibility – Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett.  We love them.  We hate them.  More than any other sport, the NBA is about the stars.  The rest of the players in the league are really just there to allow the stars to showcase their talents.  The 350 players who make up the remainder of the player’s union are basically replaceable parts.  International players and D-Leaguers could be swapped in without a huge difference.  Die hard fans may love their role players, but the big fish grease the wheels of the NBA economic machine.  Although the stars are worshipped for their talent, they are also seen as selfish and entitled.  The reason they’re seen this way is because there’s a good measure of truth to the viewpoint.  Playing basketball tends to mask these deficiencies.  People want to watch Dwyane Wade dunk a basketball, they don’t care about his ability to undress Stern in a negotiating session (well, some of us like that too).  People have no patience for a group of spoiled athletes that is given a king’s ransom to play a children’s game while they toil through the problems endemic to the “real world”.  Throw in some of the racial undertones the NBA has always battled against in the arena of public opinion (if you don’t think that this exists on some level you’re kidding yourself) and it culminates in plenty of vitriol and contempt.

Just because the last CBA expired doesn’t mean it never existed – The owners have no one to blame but themselves for the monster they’ve created.  They made the athletes the highest paid in any sport.  They agreed to the last CBA.  They agreed to extend the last CBA.  The league has given the players 57% for 12 years and the doors are still open.  If they wanted to crush the union, maybe they shouldn’t have made them the wealthiest union on the planet.  The owner’s stance on a new deal contains a frustrating combination of dumbfounding, duplicitous, and dictatorial undertones.  They are employing the “my way or the highway approach”.  If the new proposed deal is fair, how did the old deal (that is so terribly egregious) ever come into effect?  This just doesn’t pass the smell test for most people.  Going from 57% to 47% is nearly a 20% reduction - then the owners still want a litany of other concessions.  It’s too much ground to cover from one deal to the next.  If things were this bad, some of the concessions and adjustments should have been slowly transitioned in years ago.  People don’t generally like it when someone in a position of power takes a stance of “you’re stupid, so I can lie to you without compunction and you won’t know any better.”  I may be stupid, but I don’t need the owners rubbing it in my face.

The endgame – Missed games damage leagues.  It is a simple correlation to draw.  The exact extent of the damage is hard to predict.  Recent examples in hockey, baseball, and basketball show effects that are still pronounced or lingering today.  If the NFL season ends and the NBA is still on hiatus, the repercussions and backlash will be severe.  I would hope that the principals involved are cognizant of the ramifications of their conduct.  I don’t think that angry or apathetic best describe my personal position.  I think that disappointed and sad are more fitting.  Disappointed that grown men can’t work together given the circumstances and stakes.  Sad that their childish quarreling is adversely affecting the lives of so many people.  The numbers won’t change, they are what they are (even if we don’t know what they are).  The issues won’t change.  The public has been inundated with references to the cap, the mid-level exception, the BRI, and the luxury tax.  Everything that is going to be on the table is already there.  When and if a deal is ever worked out, it will be a deal that could already have been agreed to before now.  So now it’s just a matter of inflicting pain upon each other and the fans to determine the threshold at which a deal that could be had now exists.


This summer ESPN’s NBA editors undertook a project to rank every player in the NBA, a process that involved 91 experts including members of the TrueHoop Network. Then one by one from 500 down...

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Knock knock

Who's there?

The CBA talks.

Jesus Christ! You're still there?! I thought you were finished about four months ago.

Nah, still going.

So what do you want?

To be discussed.

Yeah...that's..uh..that's not gonna happen.

Really?

Well it will but only for about 8 hours a week and in the meantime, we're gonna cancel a bunch of games.

Oh right, well cheers for that.

Glad you appreciate it because the fans don't.

The who?

 

*(To save yourself some hassle, skip to the bottom of the post for the result of the lockout talks to date) 

 

That joke, right there, is exactly how I feel these CBA talks have gone.  They've dragged on when they should have finished months ago, there's no definite point to the progress made and they aren't funny.

 

Any yet Stern and Billy Hunter still can't manage to sit down for longer than XFactor is on during the week, in order to sort it out.

 

Good news though - while they are still being A class tools and posturing, posing and talking loudly, they're still providing soundbites, the most recent of which has come via the radio.

 

Hunter on WFAN

 

Billy talks about the following:

 

How the owners are looking to roll it back to 37% over an eight year period, Stern the prophet, the gap of 6% between 47 and 53 and how it closed but then instantly opened right back up again, guaranteed contracts and the player's feelings on it, his feelings on the result of a lost season and playing hardball.

 

Stern stated that continuing to meet up with the players and Billy Hunter was essentially pointless unless something changes...and soon.  He has quoted Tuesday as being a pretty important day but how definite that day is, is anybody's guess. All of that can be found here.

 

So, to recap - there is still no NBA season.

 

Feel free to carry on with your day.



Blow it up and start over!

We have enough basketball with college “Road to the Final Four” and the international competitions. Let those who want to be pro start their own league and pay their own bills. They can do the advertising and build the arenas or lease them. In the end the players and fans will get a fair return on the product.

The owners should take their money and put it into productive projects that hire more Americans. There are only a handful of great players in the U.S. The huge sums of money would be better used if spread around to millions of workers instead of a few high priced participants that produce nothing but their own celebrity.

This is a totally unneccessary industry.



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