In an effort to gauge the harm spread by this class of swine, the NBA owners (really, if they’re not piggy, who is?), I called the Baron of Brighton Beach.
He’s an old friend and the most diligent basketball fan I know. It’s worth mentioning that he wouldn’t move in with his eventual wife until cable became available in her Brooklyn neighborhood. It wasn’t that the Baron had problems with the institution of marriage, he just didn’t know if he’d survive without ESPN and the Knicks games on MSG.
So, yes, I was worried about him, what with the lockout and all.
"Don’t," he says. "I’m doing fine."
"You’re not just saying that?"
"No, really," he says. "I don’t miss it."
Of course. What am I thinking? Even for devout fans, what’s to miss?
Consider last Friday night’s previously scheduled pre-lockout NBA lineup:
Trail Blazers at Pacers. Bobcats at 76ers. Bucks at Raptors. Nets at Hornets. Hawks at Pistons. Spurs at Timberwolves. Nuggets at Thunder. Kings at Mavs. Clippers at Jazz. Wizards at Warriors. Bulls at Suns.
And Heat at Cavs. (Yes, that one, again.)
Not exactly must-see TV. But now I have to wonder what to call this travesty: a lockout or an act of mercy? I mean, if the Baron is OK, what were they actually feeling out there in America, where, incidentally, the No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State football team was shocked in a major upset that same evening?
This isn’t like the NFL lockout. There’s no sense that the fans need the game. Actually, no one cares. And no one will really care until after March Madness.
I take no glee in noting an undeniably true development. I consider myself a basketball guy. But the sports calendar has evolved considerably since the last lockout, which began in 1998. The season was too long then. But now?
Let me count the ways. You’ve got NFL football on Sunday, Thursday and occasional Saturday nights in December and January. The UFC, a dicey legal proposition in many states 13 years ago, is now a network sport. The most interesting and newsworthy season in baseball, the Hot Stove league, can be followed on the MLB’s own network. There was a classic NASCAR finale on Sunday and, come February, you get the Daytona 500. You got college football, which, truth be told, is actually three separate seasons: regular, bowl and the NFL draft. All told, it runs through April.
Did I mention March Madness?
And how about this thing called the Internet?
Or the 17th version of "Call of Duty"?
And, if all that fails, if you find yourself really, really hard up for NBA basketball, then watch NBA TV. Guaranteed, it’s better than most of the dreck you have to get through on your way to the playoffs.
"The other night they had Pistons-Celtics," Baron said. “Vinnie Johnson scored 22 in the fourth quarter. Then I saw Celtics-Sixers from Jeff Ruland’s rookie year. He’s throwing around Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale like they were dolls."
If you don’t remember Jeff Ruland, go back to "Call of Duty."
If you do, you deserve a better product than, say, the Charlotte Bobcats — which brings me back to the little piggies, these so-called small-market owners. Take Michael Jordan, who has evolved from a free-marketeer (as a player) to a hard-line proponent of an NBA welfare state (as an owner). There’s an insidious bit of fiction going around that, despite being situated squarely in ACC country, Charlotte is just not pro basketball country.
I would remind you that an NBA franchise in Charlotte once led the league in attendance. The 1992-93 Hornets averaged 23,698 fans a night. Then again, that was a team with a future. It had Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues. Problem was, it also had a terrible owner in George Shinn, whose position became untenable when he had to defend himself against sexual assault allegations.
The current owner isn’t to be compared with the relentlessly unsavory Shinn. But that’s not the issue or the question. Don’t ask why the NBA doesn’t work in Charlotte; ask why Jordan (just for starters) drafted Adam Morrison ahead of Brandon Roy.
A universal rule applies to all sports, all markets, big and small: Good personnel decisions are good business. As owners go, Jordan has proved to be a consistently lousy team president. Still, he’s like owners everywhere in that he wants a system that insulates him and his employees from their failings as talent evaluators.
Meanwhile, the players agreed to drop their share from 57 to 50 percent of basketball-related income.
But that’s not enough. Piggy, huh?
I actually feel for the players. Unfortunately, no one cares. Or rather, they won’t for a while.
"A 30-game season," the Baron of Brighton said. "That would be great."