For everything you need to know about the NBA lockout, look not at what separates the two sides but rather at what unites them. When an agreement seemed within reach last week, we learned that the players and owners were both committed to salvaging an 82 game season.
Given the late start, that would have meant extending the season a few weeks – no problem. But it also would have required each team cramming in several more games each month. That, in turn, would have meant teams playing on three consecutive days.
Economics may drive almost everything, but this is insanity. Even from an economic standpoint, it may have been penny wise and pound foolish. When marquis players get injured, attendance suffers. The whole sport (and therefore attendance long-term) suffers when stars’ careers are shortened. But more to the point, is it really worth a few bucks for players to increase the already high risk of injury? To risk shortening their already short careers?
How revealing that this is one of the few things the owners and players could agree on. In a lockout that pits greedy players against greedier owners, the sides converge only when their mutual greed coincides. One wonders if, at any point in the prolonged negotiations over how to divide their untold millions, either side gave any thought to the people who pay those millions–the fans. Did anyone, for example, consider the likely effect on the quality of play when teams play on three consecutive days? Back to back games are hard enough.
Given the number of talented NBA players worn down by their early 30s, a strong case can be made for shortening the schedule even in normal times. The 82 game schedule was not handed down at Sinai. And, unlike baseball, where records are woven into the fabric of the game, statistical continuity counts for relatively little in the NBA. Baseball fans care whether pitchers win 20 games and batters break season records within the traditional 162 game time frame. (When the schedule shifted from 154 games to 162, asterisks and unpleasantness accompanied new records.) But does anyone know the record for points or rebounds in an NBA season? Are there any relevant milestones for an NBA player within the 82 game season? I suppose teams shoot for 70 wins, and the Bulls’ record, but I, for one, would sacrifice that mild enticement to keep more players healthy.
You can argue with this, of course. You can make a case for preserving the 82 game scheduled for reasons of historic continuity or economics or something else. But to cram 82 games into a shortened calendar? As the saying goes, who put that in the contract? Boh the players and the owners wanted to, that’s who. Good grief.
Needless to say, basketball is not the only sport where greed trumps common sense. Baseball seems poised to add teams to the post-season, further diminishing the significance of the regular season. And several NFL owners apparently favor expanding the regular season, even as we learn more and more about the debilitating effect of football on players’ post-football lives.
Yes, man is an economic animal. Businesspeople will do all sorts of things to maximize wealth, and we shouldn’t expect those in the sports business to be any different. I understand all that. But there’s a difference between understanding and accepting.