Players aren’t problem in NBA lockout

Unfortunately, the NBA labor dispute won’t be settled based upon wrong or right. Greed, or the owners’ willingness to ignore its inherent danger, will determine whether we see professional basketball in 2011-12.

To my great surprise, the players and David Stern have done their jobs.

They fixed the game. The stench of the 2004 Palace brawl is gone. Without the traditional assistance of college basketball star-making, the league has developed and cultivated embraceable, ratings-driving superstars worthy of inheriting Michael, Magic and Larry’s thrones.

Only the uninformed, willfully ignorant and biased could knock the product the NBA served this past season. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook and all the rest put on a highly competitive, highly entertaining, eight-month reality series that ended with a "Dallas"-like, cliff-hanger shocker.

Who shot LBJ?

Seriously, prime-time television hadn’t delivered this kind of edge-of-your-seat drama since Kristin Shepard busted a cap in J.R. Ewing’s ass. The mystery of what happened to LeBron James in the NBA Finals rivals the 1979-80 fictional oilman whodunit.

Ironically, a writers strike delayed the follow-up season of "Dallas" by two months. There’s a chance — NBA owners locked out the players Thursday at 12:01 a.m. ET — we could go a whole year without witnessing LeBron’s bid for revenge.

Whatever happens, blame the owners.

I’m not in the tank for the players. If you’ve followed my perspective over the past five to 10 years, you know I’ve been hypercritical of professional athletes and their inability to conduct business.

As a lifelong Pacers fan, I watched Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal and Jamaal Tinsley destroy my favorite franchise with immature, reckless behavior on and off the court.

I thought what Allen Iverson represented and the way he carried himself were bad for NBA business. Rasheed Wallace’s insistence on bickering with the refs while play ensued was a terrible look for the league.

I believed the NBA’s growth as a TV product was irreversibly tied to the health of college basketball as a TV product.

I was wrong. Stern instituted a dress code, clamped down on player behavior, tweaked the rules a bit. Teams tired of Iverson’s shtick, Wallace and Iverson retired and Ron Artest (soon to be Metta World Peace) became a somewhat lovable, well-intentioned mental-health advocate with a huge heart.

Oh, and let’s don’t forget LeBron James accidently transformed himself into J.R. Ewing, the villain America loves to hate, with The Decision, a preseason championship celebration and not one, not two, not three but numerous public-relations gaffes.

Things are so good in the NBA right now that the owners might be willing to throw away next season as part of a ploy to better position themselves for their first true TiVo contract.

To me, that’s what is at the crux of this labor dispute. The owners want to crush the NBA players union and get the players to agree to a 10-year deal that will in no way reflect the value of the league once the owners negotiate new television packages in five years.

Live sports are TiVo kryptonite. The only time most of us make it a point to turn on our TVs at a set time is during sporting events. We record and watch at our convenience everything else, which means we fast-forward a lot of commercials.

The best vehicle to overtly sell product is live sports.

The NFL, NBA, MLB and even NHL are all on the verge of getting significantly stronger as more and more homes are equipped with TiVo.

And you think LeBron James should settle for less money than CBS gave Charlie Sheen for "Two and a Half Men?"

The owners are hoping the players are shortsighted, immature and stupid. They’re hoping the superstars are distracted and disinterested and satisfied with their shoe contracts. And they’re hoping the rank-and-file decision-makers just want to get a deal done that puts $10 million to $20 million in their pockets over the next four or five years.

James, Durant, Rose and Griffin should be at every negotiating session. If the owners have their way, in five years those guys could be earning half of their true value and their non-superstar peers might earn 25 percent of theirs.

The game of professional basketball is strong. The product is good. Other than the tatts, the players have done an excellent job of repairing their image.

The owners have not handled their business. They want to take money back from the players and lock them into a bad long-term deal to pay for the league’s failing business ventures such as the WNBA, NBDL, NBATV, Eddy Curry, Gilbert Arenas, etc.

Yeah, if you listen to the Stern-approved meme shouted by the NBA owners’ primary television partner (The Worldwide Leader), 22 franchises lost money and, if true, it’s not really a reflection on the competency and maturity of the owners.

It’s LeBron James and the players’ fault.

I’m not buying it.