NBA players are wrecking their league

This whole NBA scenario — from LeBron’s Decision to Melo’s Madness to Deron’s Escape — reminds me of the American housing bubble.

You don’t need to read Michael Lewis’ latest book to see the NBA is headed for collapse.

That is not a statement about the product. The product is strong. We’re in the middle of one of the best NBA seasons in quite some time. Every night, there seems to be at least one must-see matchup, and the television networks — ABC, ESPN and TNT — trumpet the record number of viewers.

There are six legitimate championship teams — the Celtics, Spurs, Heat, Lakers, Bulls and Mavericks. There is a seemingly endless list of compelling superstars worth paying to see — James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, etc.

We’re at the height of the bubble. We’re at the brink of collapse.

For close to a decade, NBA players have walked the thin line between love and hate with their customers. The players crossed it when Ron Artest and several Indiana Pacers climbed into the stands to brawl with spectators. Commissioner David Stern instituted a string of new rules — dress code, tougher restrictions prohibiting fighting, 19-year-old age requirement for the draft — to push the players back on the other side of the line.

Those Band-Aid policies are starting to break. The players, many of whom have never grasped the need to understand and satisfy their customer base, are beginning to unwittingly push back.

Soaked in the arrogance of fame, wealth, immaturity and business ignorance, the players have dramatically reshaped the league with their free-agent and impending free-agent maneuvers.

In doing so — in destroying basketball in Cleveland, Utah and Denver — LeBron, Melo, Amar’e and Deron reinforced the perception among fans that teams don’t matter.

“As a player, you have to do what’s best for you,” Wade told reporters in reaction to the Carmelo trade to New York. “You can’t think about what someone’s going to feel or think on the outside. You have to do what’s best for you, and that’s what some players are doing. I’m happy for those players that felt that they wanted to be somewhere and they got their wish.”

That pretty much sums up the mentality of the modern-day American and modern-day pro athlete. Pleasing the individual takes precedence over everything else. It doesn’t matter that the collective strength of the NBA made Wade rich. Wade and other NBA players must be concerned only with themselves. That’s the American way.

The problem for basketball players is that they’re perceived differently than other pro athletes and Americans hold higher expectations for athletes than they do for themselves.

If NBA players were smart, they’d consider the health of the entire league.

They won’t. They can’t. They’re too young, too uneducated, too compromised by a society that intellectually cripples its physically gifted, beautiful and famous. You can’t see the big picture when you’re surrounded by male and female groupies.

It’s up to David Stern and the owners to protect the future of the league. They have to protect the players from themselves.

The problems facing the NBA are not unique. The problems are just more acute in the NBA as opposed to the NFL and major league baseball.

It’s easiest to see the break from traditional sports values in the NBA. The embrace of rebellious, hip-hop music culture, which is in direct opposition to the patriotism associated with sports, and the devastation of college basketball because of early entrants into the NBA put pro basketball players at odds with their fan base.

American sports fans love basketball. It is our most beautiful and graceful game. They don’t like or respect the participants. The fans don’t believe the players share their values. Fans care about the teams. The players don’t.

As the NBA heads for labor unrest in an attempt to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement, Stern and the owners should be super aggressive in addressing this fundamental problem.

A franchise tag for the league’s biggest stars won’t fix it.

Tying a significant percentage of player compensation to wins and losses is the solution, along with financial incentives for players to stay in college and pursue an actual education while there.

I’ve written in detail about these ideas in the past.

American basketball is in need of a major overhaul. Everything should be on the table. People should think outside the box. Money has changed pro sports. It’s long past time for the rules governing construction of teams and compensation of players to be fundamentally changed to reflect today’s reality.

The teams have to matter. Winning has to matter. It can’t simply be about players re-creating their AAU teams in their favorite NBA cities. That bubble is going to burst. The thin line between love and hate soon is going to be crossed irrevocably.