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From great season to no season?
It seemed so certain in June: Never again might we encounter an NBA situation in which such a sure thing — such stunning opportunity for glory — would be squandered with such an incomprehensible barrage of failure and futility.
How wrong we were.
Just three months later, in an effort to one-up the Miami Heat’s ignominious Finals collapse, comes Tuesday’s news out of New York that talks between the players and owners produced absolutely no progress.
Welcome to another failure to seize the moment that defies words.
Among the news that emerged was that, with talks on hold and progress at a standstill, the preseason has officially been canceled.
The league also announced that the first two weeks of the regular season will be scrapped if there is no labor agreement by Monday — and wagering there will be no labor agreement by Monday is as safe a bet as you can find in America these days.
All of which adds up to this: On the heels of the most relevant, interesting and attention-growing NBA season since Michael Jordan, we’re going to go from that (LeBron and Dirk and Derrick and a host of intriguing teams and storylines) to this (a momentum-eviscerating lockout).
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Yep, LeBron & Co., you can now rest just a little bit easier. The emerging NBA renaissance — punctuated by Dirk’s redemption and revenge, LeBron’s all-time choke job and all those other compelling teams and players waiting to make 2011-12 even better than the season before — has been hijacked by a failure that makes your problems look pedestrian.
Count me among the people angry with everyone responsible for what’s about to happen. As a writer assigned to cover the Heat’s entire season, I had the great joy of enjoying a front-row seat for all that the Big Three meant for Miami, themselves and the league at large.
It was a raucous, thrilling and fascinating journey defined by LeBron’s massive talent and shortcomings — all of which created a mosaic of angst, pressure, teamwork, resentment, cluelessness, resolve, bonding, greatness, grit, whining and an ultimate failure that, to me, seemed certain from the start.
It was great stuff.
So, too, was the hate flung at Miami — not because Miami did or didn’t deserve it (continue to argue among yourselves), but because it was that hate that first drew eyeballs to some amazing basketball, both in Miami and elsewhere. Through the haze of ill will infecting every moment of Miami’s season, if you looked closely enough, was a resurgence in the league at large.
As LeBron underwent an odyssey certain to make him a hero or a villain (and what more drama can you ask for), those of us who love the NBA had yet more to savor: a still mesmerizing Kobe Bryant battling age; Phil Jackson’s last season with the Lakers; Derrick Rose’s sudden and sure blossoming, and with it a Bulls team as formidable to play as fun to watch.
We had Dallas, all year, quietly chopping wood and winning road games and gearing up to get Dirk and Cuban that ring. We had the 'Melo madness ending with the Knicks not just relevant but with two big-time stars, and with Denver so deep and interesting you didn’t know who got the better deal.
We had Kevin Durant’s scoring wizardry making Oklahoma City a center point of action and excitement (Think about that: Oklahoma City, a place of action and excitement. Wow, right?). We had Boston’s own Big Three eyeing Miami with malice, we had Superman in Orlando and a trade so big it changed the whole team so early that it was hard to believe and was a clear response to the threat down south (again, Miami related).
We had San Antonio trying to be quietly great again, and Utah losing its longtime coach and best player. We had Memphis and Portland, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love ... so many amazing storylines that all of a sudden we had folks not normally interested in the league paying attention.
We had record TV ratings and a huge spike in merchandise sales.
What do we have now?
We have the geniuses at the negotiating table jeopardizing all of that. We have a wasted opportunity that, as I said, makes LeBron’s Finals fiasco seem somehow less devastating (which, if you’ve read me before, you know is saying something).
I saw it all last year, and so I know, as many of you do, that what’s being wasted here is a rare chance for the NBA to connect in a mostly football sports culture because this is a rare cast of characters, players, storylines and teams.
This is a rare and great moment in the NBA.
Yep, we had a season you could put up there on the all-time list and the very real fact it was just going to get better this season.
Now we have those in the league offices and ownership suits and players’ circles handing us the very real fact they’re going to waste all of it over a lockout that might eventually benefit one side but will certainly undercut the game at full stride.
So I don’t care who’s to blame in this lockout mess. And you know what? Neither do most of the fans the NBA and the players should be courting — the folks who, all season last year, told me this was the first time in years they’d cared about professional basketball.
Maybe the owners want seismic change in the way they do business at the players’ expense because they’re greedy and unified and ready to crush the union. Or maybe the players don’t get that the owners need a financial sea change for things to work out and that the way the system is set up will squeeze small markets and eventually suck the oxygen out of the league’s competitive balance. Or maybe ...
Who gives a crap?
The fans don’t. We’re about to go from offseason lockout to missed games to, very much perhaps, a truncated or totally missed season.
So listen up, all you players and owners who basked in LeBron’s Finals disaster (you know who you are — and there are a lot of you): You’re about to do the same exact thing he did and squander something so certain that the magnitude of the loss will be surpassed only by the fact it was lost in the first place.
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