In the National Basketball Association, the country may not get quite as mad as the NCAA Tournament, but we are down to the final four, and there is plenty to pay attention to. The NBA Playoffs have delivered their fair share of surprises (The Bulls taking game one against the Heat) as well as caveats and disappointments (Russell Westbrook's injury in the series against the Houston Rockets), but they've wound down by this point to the Conference Finals.
On Sunday, the Memphis Grizzlies got smacked around in their first game at San Antonio against the Spurs. The Grizz had a tough path in making their very first Conference Finals, taking down the Los Angeles Clippers in round 1 and the Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder in round 2. Their defense, touted all season, has looked strong and will give the Spurs a serious test. The Spurs, meanwhile, defeated the disappointing Los Angeles Lakers in a round 1 romp and the upset-minded, young star-studded Golden State Warriors in round 2.
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat have rolled through the Playoffs as most suspected they would. After blanking the Milwaukee Bucks in round 1, they were surprised by the Chicago Bulls for a game, but ended up sweeping the remainder of the series. They'll start the conference finals on Wednesday against a team that is the Eastern Conference mirror of the Grizz, the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers haven't made the Conference Finals since 2004, and many did not figure them to be back here this year, with the absent Danny Granger and his uncertain status during various points of the season. However, the Pacers have clearly found their way forward without their star player, recommitting to defense and grinding games out that may not be beautiful, but give them the win. They defeated the Atlanta Hawks in round 1 in 6 games and then did the same to the New York Knicks. In each series for the Pacers, home-court advantage has seemed to matter. They will not have it against the Heat, and the vast majority of sports pundits are picking LeBron James and company to beat the Pacers.
So the probable match-up is the Spurs vs the Heat. This would be a callback for James, as the first Finals he made, while he still played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, was in 2007, against the Spurs. Those Spurs destroyed that Cavs team, sweeping them out of the Finals in an unceremonious manner. James certainly remembers that and may use it as motivation if the two teams do meet. However, a player of his caliber is certainly not over-looking his current series and it's worth thinking about the possibility of the Grizzlies and the Pacers meeting. Memphis and Indiana are first and second in defense respectively and they'll both give their opponents more than a cursory spat in their Conference Finals games. San Antonio, known for its defense for seemingly decades, sits at a mortal 11th place in that category this year, but is balanced by the fourth-ranked offense. Again, the Spurs are the favorite in their Conference Final. But sitting above all other teams, in both esteem and odds, reign the Miami Heat. With both the fifth-best defense and offense they look, at times, unstoppable.
We'll find out about the Heat and the Pacers tomorrow. The Grizzlies and the Spurs, meanwhile, are off to a terrific start. All of the remaining Western Conference games can be seen on ESPN, while the Eastern Conference games will be broadcast on TNT.
On Monday morning Jason Collins penned a first-person essay that was released in Sports Illustrated coming out as the first active player and openly gay man in one of the four major sports leagues of North America.
While the chatter about breaking the barrier for sexual orientation has focused on the possibility of four NFL players, Collins said, "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport ... if I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand." By taking this mantle up for himself, Collins has both inspired people and courted controversy, even if some people see that as not totally justified.
The NBA family, at least those who have spoken out publicly, have done an admirable job welcoming this news into their lives. There are certainly going to be more opinions, though, whether they get expressed or not, that fall into the category of fear or disdain. In fact, just earlier this month, Phil Jackson, seen by many in the NBA as one of the most open-minded individuals, spoke out in a manner that was very difficult to understand. Was Jackson dismissing the possibility of the disdain that individual would face?
With so much regarding the gay population of America in turmoil these days and a Supreme Court case to be decided this summer, there's a lot to be said about stepping out into a leadership position on this issue. There will be no lessening when it comes to these kinds of issues, only an intensification. The quicker that individuals can set themselves up as leaders, the easier it will be for the next domino to fall.
Tiger Woods won the AT&T tournament at the Congressional in Maryland on Sunday, edging Bo Van Pelt.
The PGA Tour had enjoyed a period of time when nearly everyone thought Tiger Woods was finished competing for any major titles. Besides all of Woods' personal struggles, injuries plagued any attempt of a comeback. But 2012 may be the year Tiger finally got his bite back. Before the AT&T National, he’d won two tournaments (no majors) in 2012 but was ranked fourth in the world golf rankings. In yesterday’s final round at the Congressional, Woods shot a 2-under 69 to outlast Bo Van Pelt and capture the title. Woods' third victory of the year moves him into second place for the most all-time PGA tour victories. Even though he didn't dominate the tournament, the fire and intensity that made Woods a champion seems to be back. The post-tournament press conference was the first example of the old Tiger, as he seemed defiant and borderline arrogant. If Woods' swagger has returned, other PGA golfers should be very concerned.
NBA Free Agency
The moment the Miami Heat won the NBA Finals, every team in the league began to form plans to land the biggest free agents during the off-season.
Dwight Howard is one of the most talented big men in the league, but he's also the most mysterious. Howard's indecisive choices have made him one of the most disliked athletes in the NBA. Despite the Stan Van Gundy firing, Howard still wants out of Orlando, but he'll have to play by the Magic's rules. Because he opted into another year of his contract, Howard can only beg and plead through the media to be traded. Since Howard is only interested in one team, Brooklyn, Orlando should take its time in making a decision—and probably won’t mind making one of the league’s to superstars suffer.
If Dwight Howard truly wants to leave Orlando, he'll need to open his mind to playing in other cities. Especially if free-agent supersatr Deron Williams leaves Brooklyn—making it a much-less desirable team to play for.
Aging veterans Ray Allen and Steve Nash are on the wish list of any team looking to win a title. Nash has to most lucrative offers with his home country’s Toronto Raptors offering a three-year $36 million deal. But money may mean less for Nash, who's still looking to win his first-ever NBA title. While Dallas and Miami may have a shot, look for the Knicks to be factor in the negotiations. Nash lives in New York and would be reunited with former Suns teammate Amar'e Stoudemire.
As for Ray Allen, along with his current team, the Boston Celtics, teams such as Miami and the Grizzlies are looking to land his services. Allen has already won a title and was unhappy coming off the bench last season, which may make Boston less appealing. If the Grizzlies can offer Allen a similar deal as other teams in the league, Memphis could be the favorite. But if Allen wants to capture another championship, he'll have an easier team shooting threes in Miami. Which ever team he chooses, Allen still remains one of the most deadly shooters in the game.
The world of boxing suffered a massive loss when Johnny Tapia passed away on Sunday, May 27. Along with being a five-time world champion, Tapia managed to be a positive member of the community while being a respected figure in the sports world. On Sunday night, thousands waited in line to pay their respects to the champ at University Arena. Several members of the boxing community were in attendance, and others offered tributes though video messages. If your’re wondering how much Tapia meant to the boxing world, or just want to relive a classic bout, check out one of most memorable fights in his career when he battled Danny Romero in Las Vegas in 1997.
Las Cruces native and WBA 154-pound world champion Austin Trout retained his title by defeating Delvin Rodriguez by unanimous decision on scores of 120-108, 118-110 and 117-111. Fans and media were unhappy with Trout's performance, but he got the win and is now in the running to face rising star Canelo Alvarez. Alvarez’ original opponent Paul Williams pulled out after a motorcycle crash and his replacement James Kirkland declined the bout after originally accepting it. Hopefully the sport of boxing will do the right thing and give Trout a chance to prove his worth to a larger boxing audience. But his critics are out in force to prevent the fight from happening, not to mention that Alvarez' promoter, Golden Boy Productions, is unlikely to put a fighter with a difficult style against a rising star.
Let the bashing begin. Haters of the Heat had plenty of ammo to throw at Miami for its game four performance. Between being down by 18-points at halftime, LeBron James fouling out and Dwyane Wade missing the game winning shot the seemingly unstoppable Heat looked vulnerable. For casual fans, Boston's 93-91 win may be a sign of Miami cracking, but those who look closer know it’s no time to panic. These teams have developed a heated rivalry by playing close and physical basketball. While Boston has many flaws, the Heat isn't able to exploit them. Chris Bosh's injury enabled the Celtics score 17 second-chance points and get 11 offensive rebounds, despite losing the overall rebounding battle. Momentum may lie with the Celtics, but the Heat have the homecourt advantage and may get the services of Bosh after all. If Miami gets Bosh close to 100 percent and its bench can produce, Boston is in trouble.
This weekend, the National Basketball Association begins its Conference Finals. The NBA Playoffs started off with a whimper—as player after player fell with injuries—and things seemed almost to be doomed. However, now that we're down to the final four, the NBA has got to be excited with its prospects for matchups.
In the Western Conference, the Spurs, persistently rumored to be too old to get the job done—yet consistently making deep playoff runs—have mowed over every opponent they've faced. They blanked both the Utah Jazz as well as the L.A. Clippers. Going 8-0, though, the Spurs would have you believe, means nothing. They are a focused group, led by the coach and player examples of Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, both of whom have been around the block more than a few times. The Jazz and the Clips both had a couple opportunities where they could have stolen a game or two, but they were ultimately pushed by the mettle of the veteran Spurs.
In stark contrast to that aged wisdom stand the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite being one of the youngest teams in the league, no one can make the claim that this group is not experienced. They have made the playoffs for the last three years, and have progressed farther for the last two. This year, they are expected to challenge the Spurs for the Western Conference title, regardless of how good San Antonio looks. The expectation in Oklahoma City is to win an NBA Championship, or the season will be considered a loss. This speaks highly to the atmosphere in the newest NBA market, and shows how committed the coach and players—not to mention ownership—are to the overall goal. The Thunder are led by a three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and super-sub—and Sixth Man of the Year award-winner—James Harden. Their youth and speed will be tested by the Spurs in one of the most highly anticipated series, kicking off tonight at 6:30 p.m.
In the Eastern Conference, proceedings have been understandably marred by Derrick Rose's absence. If Chicago had been around, most people agree that things might have gone differently. But Rose is out for up to a year with an ACL injury, and the Miami Heat capitalized on that opportunity to roll to the Conference Finals for a second year in a row. After their loss in the NBA Finals last year, the Heat have congealed in the last few weeks of the Playoffs to look as good as any other team. Their being tested physically by the Indiana Pacers was probably a great thing for team unity and proof to guys on the team not named LeBron James or Dwyane Wade that they deserve to be in this spot. Like the young Thunder in the West, the Heat will not be satisfied with making these Conference Finals, though. Their goal, remember, is not one, not two championships, but a dynasty.
Standing in the way of that dynasty, fittingly enough, once again, are the Boston Celtics. Last year when LeBron and company finally beat the Celtics, the moment overwhelmed him. It was cathartic. The same pressure is not there for James or the rest of the Heat, but it definitely is on the Celtics. Dismissed all year as too old, as having only this run left in them, the Celtics have relied heavily on ace point guard Rajon Rondo, who notched a triple double in closing out the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have wavered back and forth from their old, reliable selves to unsure players. The other rock in Boston has been Kevin Garnett who still appears hungry long after pundits predicted he'd be making an impact.
It'd be easy—and wrong—to summarize both of these series as the young, upstart teams versus the grizzled vets, trying to make one last stand. But there's no denying that there is a sea change afoot in the NBA. This year's Conference Finals may see some of those prognostications, that merely one or two years ago sounded absurd, spring to life.
With college basketball over, it’s time for the NBA to take the hoops spotlight. Even though everyone picked the Miami Heat to finally capture the title, the playoff field is wide open for any team to become champion. Here’s a breakdown by conference:
The Big Three might have one last championship push left.
Both the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat have been fighting injuries since the All-Star break and have been mediocre in the month of April. And the struggles of the Eastern Conference’s best have opened the door for an old favorite to have one more run at the title.
When the boston Celtics put together its Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it was with the expectation that the group wouldn't last forever. But along with Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have captured an NBA championship and have become a tough defensive opponent for any league team. So it was puzzling when the organization was aggressively trying shop Rondo around the league. Luckily for the Celtics, it kept him and the result has been Rondo quietly putting together a 17-game streak of 10-plus assists. His point guard play has turned into victories with the Celtics going 7-3 in their last ten, including a dominant performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite having four superstars (albeit a few of them dwindling), the Celtics have dodged additional pressure from the national media. If the playoffs started today, Boston would face the dangerous Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Even though it’s not considered one of the league top contenders, the Celtics bench and veteran leadership could lead them to a surprise playoff run.
Dwight Howard—a hard guy to get along with.
What would be the equivalent of oil and water in the NBA? It would probably be the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and head coach Stan Van Gundy. They've never had the best relationship and now it’s reached a boiling point with Van Gundy confirming rumors he heard Howard requested he be fired. It's unfortunate the Magic are falling apart because they have one of the most effective offenses in the league. Its three point shooting combined with Howard dominating the paint should have made Orlando a lock for the conference finals. Instead, trade rumors, injuries and the turmoil of Howard and Van Gundy have turned the Magic into the most disappointing team in the association. Despite Orlando Magic General Manager Otis Smith publicly denying the rumors about Van Gundy, he has to determine either to fire his coach now and please Howard or keep Van Gundy and salvage the remainder of the season. If the Magic continues to side down the playoff ladder, it may be best to cut ties with Van Gundy and convince Howard to sign a long term extension with free agents and a big name head coach.
Under the Radar:
When Reggie Miller retired, the Indiana Pacers had to begin a search of a new identity to ensure the future of the franchise. It's been a long rebuilding process, but the Pacers have finally returned to respectability and have quietly made its way into the third seed in the East. Former-Lobo Danny Granger has been the star for the majority of his tenure in Indiana, but now he doesn't have to bare the burden alone with the additions of Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough. Last year the Pacers pushed the Chicago Bulls to the limit in the first round with their lockdown defense on Derrick Rose. Now if Indiana can hang onto the third seed, they're most likely to receive a favorable first round matchup.
Tim Duncan and the aging Spurs are still sharp.
From 1999 to 2007 the San Antonio Spurs won four NBA title titles, but got little love from media or fans. Even though they have arguably the greatest power forward ever in Tim Duncan and consistent All-Star players with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they are always overlooked. Granted last year the Spurs performed well in the regular season but suffered an early elimination by the Memphis Grizzlies. In 2012 the Spurs have managed to earn the best record in the Western Conference without attracting scrutiny from the mainstream media. Head coach Greg Popovich has managed to keep his four main stars and surround them with quality roles players who are non-selfish and focused on winning. With the OKC Thunder barely behind the Spurs for the top seed, San Antonio cannot afford any injuries. The Western Conference is now going through a transition of younger teams dominating the playoff picture, but if the Spurs are healthy, it can use its experience to make a run to the conference finals.
Before Blake Griffin, the L.A. Clippers were considered the laughing stock of the league. Whenever the Clippers would be lucky enough to gain any talent, they would trade it away in order to make the organization profitable. Finally for Clippers fans,the organization has renewed focus on winning and playing exciting basketball. The acquisition of Chris Paul has enabled the Lakers’ 'little brother' to be fan pleasing while moving towards the top half of the playoff picture. But its loss against the Lakers should be a red flag for “Lop City” fans. Blake Griffin has morphed into a human highlight reel but fails to play consistent defense or make mid-range jumpers. The Clippers currently hold the fourth seed and would face the underrated Memphis Grizzles in the first round. If the Clippers plan on purely outscoring its opponents en route to an NBA title, the only thing the Clippers would be lobbing is their heads against the wall.
Under the Radar:
Yao Ming's sudden retirement from the NBA left the Houston Rockets reeling. But, like the Indiana Pacers, the Rockets have quietly formed an effective combination of veterans and newcomers to currently gain the sixth seed. Head coach Kevin McHale has turned a potential bottom feeder into a respectable playoff team. The major Achilles heel of the Rockets is its ability to win games on the road. Its 11-17 road record will not translate into success in the playoffs. But the Rockets recent victory over the Lakers in the Staples Center should give them a much needed confidence boost. If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would face the troubled Lakers. The Rockets are unlikely to win the series, but considering the recurring Laker drama, Houston has the ability frustrate the Lakers into a long seven game series.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship made its return to the land of the rising sun this past Saturday and delivered an entertaining night of fights featuring knockouts and comebacks. Despite having the shadow of Japanese MMA looming over the event, most fans will have fond memories over the potential fight-of-the-year featuring Frankie Edgar v. Benson Henderson for the Lightweight title.
Edgar has put on many exciting performances as champion but is considered undersized, while Henderson has been on a huge role since his loss against Anthony Pettis in 2010. Once the cage door shut, both men engaged in nonstop action with neither able to have a clear advantage in the first round. Round two featured Henderson scoring a huge up-kick which immediately drew blood on the champion, but like many times before Edgar continued to press forward.
When the final round started many experts and fans had the fight dead even. Henderson may have finished landing punches in the dominate position when the bout ended, but the round was still razor close. Surprisingly, all three judges scored the bout for Henderson and ended the “Edgar Era” in the Lightweight division.
Also shocking has been the support for Edgar to move to the Featherweight division and for Pettis to receive the next title opportunity. While Pettis is an exciting fighter with lots of potential, Edgar deserves his rematch, especially since B.J. Penn and Grey Maynard got their second chance. Other than Edgar no one in the UFC Lightweight division stands out as an immediate title contender. The current Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez is the only other fighter deserving as he has been the second-ranked fighter in the division for years. Hopefully UFC President Dana White will see the light and grant Melendez a chance to prove he belongs in the elite tier.
2012 NBA All-Star Game
No doubt this year’s edition of the NBA All-Star Game was somewhat overshadowed by the lackluster Slam Dunk Contest and Dwight Howard trade rumors. But the actual game still provided some noteworthy-enough moments to prevent fans from changing the channel to the Oscars. Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant was the focal point for his quest to become the all-time leading scorer in All-Star games. Bryant's 27 points helped the West dominate the East for most of the game until LeBron James caught fire in the fourth. James had 36 points and hit two huge threes to bring his squad within striking distance. But costly turnovers and bad execution in the final minutes allowed the West to escape with a 152-149 victory. Kevin Durant captured the game's MVP with 36 points and seven rebounds.
With a game-winning three over the Toronto Raptors, the Jeremy Lin story was taken to the next level. The Raptors are certainly no team to brag about beating, but Lin has now been too good for too long to be taken as anything other than the real deal.
While Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather spar on Twitter about whether or not there's a racist element to the lionizing that's going on, the rest of the pundits are salivating over the pure numbers. In five starts, Lin has five wins. The Knicks have gone from a laughingstock that would, perhaps, get better if Carmelo Anthony shot the ball less frequently to the team Anthony is having the give interviews about, saying he can co-exist with Lin when he comes back from injury.
Lin has notched a double-double in two of the last five games and has scored 20 or more each time. When he torched the Lakers on Friday night for 38 points, people claimed he couldn't keep it up. He matched up with phenom Ricky Rubio in Minnesota just one night later, going for 20-8-6, and getting the all-important win.
Even Stephen Colbert is singing his praises. So what to make of a player that comes from out of nowhere? (A career at Harvard doesn't exactly count, although he did set a school record.) Lin’s bounced around since graduating from college without being drafted into the NBA. His two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors was filled with rookie-type minutes and the dwindling box scores that accompany garbage time. After being waived at the beginning of this lockout-shortened season, he was claimed off waiver wires by the Houston Rockets, and was subsequently waived again before playing in a single regular-season game.
Since coming to the Knicks, though, Lin's story has changed dramatically. He began competing for a third- or fourth-string point guard spot, only to have his team suffer one of those uniquely good cases of bad luck. Injuries and setbacks conspired to spring Lin on the unsuspecting masses, and he's justified that leap of faith.
Lin has already proved he's for real. Now the only question is: How long can he keep this up? The Knicks get to pick on the visiting Sacramento Kings tonight and New Orleans on Friday. On Sunday, though, the Knicks have a game on ABC pitting them against the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks. Lin's been impressive. Now the feat will be to see if he remains consistent.
Over the Thanksgiving break, there was no happier news than the revelation, entirely unexpected, that the NBA would, in fact, have a season this year. With game's slated to begin on Christmas Day (although the schedule appears to still be in doubt), this is the best present a basketball fan could ask for.
Of course, almost immediately the attitude of reporters and bloggers went from grateful for having a season, to their default setting of cynicism and calling out trade rumors as legitimate news. This is shocking, given the national media's earlier restraint.
The rumor mongering might not be so prevalent, however, if there were more concrete facts available. Billy Hunter claims that the players will be getting 51.2% of the aforementioned Basketball Revenue Income (BRI), and there's not much reason to doubt him. However, we've yet to see an official schedule of games from the NBA. While there's no conspiracy theorizing (yet) going on, there certainly is a dearth of information in a culture that is starving for sustenance.
Las Vegas odds favor the Miami Heat to win the season, with the Toronto Raptors clocking in with the lowest chance. The Los Angeles Lakers, of course, figure into that equation, as do the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Oklahoma City Thunder and, of course, the Boston Celtics, who introduced their own trade rumors just recently.
Regardless of the odds, though, of a season that wasn't even in existence a mere week ago, the simple truth is that NBA fans have a lot to be thankful for. The usual doldrums of the season might be lost in this proposed 66 game schedule, and the traditional masterpiece of Christmas day games appears to be standing strong.
As a dyed-in-the-wool basketball fan, I know this might sound a little bit like sacrilege (even though every serious basketball fan has had this discussion at several points in their fandom; it seems like the stink eye is always the response) but it might be time to think about shortening the season and making this a regular season. Football as America's religion is not just a trope as this point; it's a fact. So if the NBA can make a splash by starting the season on Christmas and then play out their "It's early in the season, no one cares about these games," period in January and early February, while the NFL is building to the Super Bowl, maybe that's not a bad thing.
The time for long term plans, now, thankfully, seems far off. The time for celebration? Just about to begin. Welcome back, NBA.
Dirk Nowitzki has threatened to take his talents overseas
Tuesday night was supposed to be opening day for the National Basketball Association. Instead, we have headlines like "The Opening Day That Wasn't" and New Mexico residents got to see UNM beat up on NAIA Davenport. The defending NBA Finals MVP is saying things indicating that the NBA might lose some of their star power. And, of course, the long shadow of the dominant face of American sports (the NFL, of course) only grows longer.
Basketball should have learned its lesson from the National Hockey League. Even if NBA Commissioner David Stern had somehow succeeded in making basketball the most popular sport in America, he should have taken one long, hard look at what happened to the NHL after their lockout and done everything in his power to avoid this. Of course, there are those who claim that he still is. There are those who claim that this lockout is simply about greedy players wanting more money. The refuting of this point having already been done, let's go ahead and assume that people on both sides are working—just not hard enough.
The economics of the lockout have been broken down so many times that it feels a little frustrating to go over them again. Instead, a little speculation.
There had been talk that the owners were simply waiting for the season to start, for the players to miss their paychecks. This theory held that the owners felt that once money started not appearing, the players would break. With the dawn of new media and the way players are directly connected to both their fans and their sponsors, this seems like a shoddy argument to base your entire game theory around.
On the other hand, how many of the NBA players have super-popular Twitter accounts—or websites, failing that? How many of them have such airtight endorsements that they won’t feel the pinch once money is supposed to be rolling in?
The players can present a united front all they'd like (and they really, really, really want to), but there will surely be some cracks in the armor soon. It all depends on how large those cracks appear, and how violently they assert themselves. If guys stop getting together and planning flag football games, you'll know something else is wrong.
For now, the only thing that's wrong is that baseball's over, football's at its midway point and yet, for some reason, there is no NBA on television. It's a sad day for a basketball junkie.
The NBA has been officially locked out since July 1. But on Monday night, as the players and owners failed to reach a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout reached a new level: The first two weeks of the 2011-2012 NBA season have been cancelled. This is not virgin territory for the NBA. With a lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season still fresh on fans' minds, and the success of the 2010-2011 season, it seems poor timing for the perennial middle child (if that) of America's sports love to lose any part of a season.
With the NBA locked out and a shortened season the best thing fans can hope for, it's time to break down a few misconceptions about the circumstances that got us to this point, as well as the reality of the situation we're in.
First of all, this has been coming for quite a while. And, despite the fact that everyone knew it was going to happen (perhaps even as far back as the last lockout), the two sides—represented by David Stern and Billy Hunter—didn't meet until August. Now that the first two weeks of the season have been cancelled, at least one ESPN reporter claims that the real work will finally begin. That's a pathetic effort from a sport that isn't entitled to anywhere near the rate of audience-retention that its big brother the NFL is.
Secondly, despite the above griping, those who say this is just millionaires and billionaires fighting over money are dead wrong. The fight is over money, certainly, but only one side is demanding more. While the owners were previously receiving a paltry—in their eyes—43% of the BRI (the Basketball Related Income), the players came to the initial meetings willing to move down, from 57% to 53%. While some speculated this might be an acceptable compromise, initial reports claimed the owners wanted the players to bump all the way down to 39%. Then it looked as though the owners were only willing to meet if that figure was at 50-50. Finally, it's been reported that the owners want to take as much as 54%. All these figures have been thrown around as a precondition on the part of the owners to the resumption of meetings. It's hard to call those kind of tactics good faith negotiation.
An under-reported angle to the story—at least in the mainstream media—is how the second-tier people will be affected by this. While SLAM Online reported NBA players' reactions to the announcement, there have been no in-depth stories on the hundreds, if not thousands, of employees at the arenas, ticket offices, concession stands and security. Surely these people, for whom this is presumably their job, the main source of their income, need their paychecks more than any of the players do—not to mention the owners, for many of whom owning an NBA team is a literal luxury. Make sure to include the third-tier layer of ramifications, such as lowered airline revenue from fewer people traveling to games and lowered restaurant revenue from fewer people going out for the night to watch the game and it's easy to see the far-reaching effects of this lockout.
It's easy to look at the NBA lockout—in the era of the Occupy Wall Street movement—as just another sign of corporate greed. However, like all economic situations, the truth resists simplicity. The players union and the owners have a complicated battle ahead of them, culminating not in the moment that the season is saved—or doomed—but rather in the rehabilitation of their image after that fact. To say that greed got them to this point is ignorant. But if you're looking for a simple tagline, some of that elusive truth, it's relatively easy: The players want to play (and get paid) and the owners want to make money. They'll come to an agreement sooner or later. It's only a question of how many people will still be watching.
While last week saw the NFL resolve its lockout—to the joy of football fans across America—the NBA lockout seems to be getting worse.
Every other day, it seems, a new NBA star is rumored to be looking into signing overseas to play in some other league, and David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, seems to be almost taunting those who have done so already as well as those who are thinking about it. The fight in the NBA is almost purely over money, as opposed to the NFL, where there were (and still are, for many) concerns over the length of the schedule, league rules, intensity of practices and other factors.
The owners in the NBA want more share of revenue and seem to be more than willing to give up this season to get it. The players, on the other hand, are reluctant to give up more than they already have. The owners claim that the NBA as a whole is losing money and that the league cannot continue on the course it's on. The players counter that, more than any other league, the NBA is star-centric; people don't come to NBA arenas to watch the big hits, like they do for football, nor do they come for the history of the park or the team, like they do in baseball. Some of them come out of fervent support for a team, like we see often in hockey and soccer, but mostly, the players contend, the audiences flock to the arenas of the NBA for the marquee players.
Last NBA season was one for the ages. We had a young, rising star in Chicago win the MVP award, reminding the world that Michael Jordan doesn't play basketball anymore, and the game is in good hands. We had the near-unanimous consent of the sporting nation in rooting against the Heat. We had the underdog Mavs overcome those same Heat in a surprisingly great NBA Finals series. We had Blake Griffin as Rookie of the Year, robbed of his real rookie season and then proving that he was the real thing.
Now, we have football back and a populace that was already just borderline-interested in basketball seems poised to lose any of the respect that the last few post-Jordan years had seemingly cemented. We have that same Rookie of the Year lamenting that in his first three seasons, he might get to play a mere 82 games. We have players taking to their Twitter accounts in a style far less aggressive than when James Harrison called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the pages of Men's Journal magazine, while the NFL was still locked out. The degree of severity doesn't matter, though, for a sport that plays second-fiddle in America's eyes, at best.
The worst news for basketball fans is that most owners didn't get rich by owning NBA teams. The teams are a side business at most, a fun distraction at least. If they have to lose this season in order to get the profit sharing margin down to the levels where they think it needs to be in order to continue having their fun, they seem more than willing to do so. The silver lining is that there is plenty of basketball off the NBA courts still being played. But that's about it.
Late June to early August has always been a tough time. There are years when we have the Summer Olympics to get us by. There's a brief respite for the Tour de France, although it's lost some of its luster recently. And yes, I am excited about both the upcoming Women's World Cup as well as the 15th WNBA Season. But there's no denying these are dark times.
The NBA, NFL and NHL are all done with their seasons. MLB, for those who care, hasn't really picked up any steam yet by this point in the season. But most importantly, for now, the two behemoths of American sports, basketball and football, seem to be on a collision course with no righting in sight.
The NFL is already locked out and the NBA appears to be heading in that direction. As though sports fans weren't already mired in what is traditionally the worst time of the year, that slog is now compounded by the fact that it might stretch on even longer.
There's already been extensive coverage of why this is happening in both of these leagues, so for now, let's focus on the positive: There are reports that the NFL sides might be close to reconciliation. The NBA can learn from this NFL experience and perhaps avoid actually locking out.
But even more importantly, we can shift our focus from those leagues to the alternatives. The aforementioned Women's World Cup features not just a strong U.S. team, but a hungry one. The Tour de France, free from those Americans that some claim the French love to hate, might have a chance to stand on its own, as opposed to being hounded by the WADA for violations; focusing on the actual sport and its real winner could prove to be a successful formula. And the WNBA is becoming a refined product on its own, not merely the little-sister-league of the NBA.
The WNBA is trying to make summer–the ironic winter of sports–its time to shine: By celebrating 15 years of existence, the league gets to simultaneously advertise its product as well as remind viewers that this league is no longer an experiment. Love it or hate it, the WNBA appears to be here to stay. The human aspect of sports is really what captivates people, and the inclusion of fan voting on the top 30 WNBA players of all time seems a great place to start.
Bicycling Magazine says that of the 200-plus riders who will take place in this year's Tour de France, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, two Americans, are some of the most worthy riders to watch. Perhaps America will once again have riders come from seemingly out of nowhere to challenge for the yellow jersey, enabling us to focus on the sport and the will of those who participate.
The Women's World Cup, taking place in Germany, presents a similar opportunity for the American women to take on the shadow that's been hanging over their program–in this case, for the last twelve years. In 1999, Brandi Chastain sealed a victory for America with her iconic penalty kick and celebration, but Team USA has been mired in mediocrity since then. The U.S. is ranked first in the world currently but needs to perform in order to maintain the enthusiasm that is beginning to dwindle.
So while the millionaires of the NBA and NFL fight with their billionaire owners, take some time in this traditionally dark period to try to get back to the great storylines that make us truly care about sports.