Double Dribbles: Labor dispute must be resolved quickly

The NBA can’t lose games. That’s the bottom line on the current labor talks, and both the owners and the players need to realize it.

The league will boast about its merchandising sales, its skyrocketing television ratings, its unpredictable and exciting postseason. But all of that will be meaningless if both parties don’t work out their issues in the collective bargaining agreement — and soon.

Another thing members of the league have to know is the NBA isn’t the NFL. The NBA’s largest fan base consists of those in the 13-to-34 age range. Most folks outside of that age group, Americans or otherwise, could care less about pro basketball.

The NFL, experiencing a lockout of its own at this very moment, won’t have to work hard (if at all) to win back fans. It is truly America’s Game, able to thrive despite work stoppages or any other major issues.

The NBA doesn’t have that luxury. Unlike the NFL, it relies heavily on its international fans — especially those in China. Losing even half of those fans would be like misplacing a $200 million check on the way to the bank.

As David Stern once said, “There are 350 million people in America. In China, there are 350 million people who play basketball.”

But the commissioner knows that number could dwindle if the next NBA season doesn’t tip off until, say, January. That, no doubt, would be costly.

During the league’s last work stoppage (1998), the international support barely existed. At least, it barely did in comparison to today. The world was a different place back then, and the NBA was a different league. Back then, Michael Jordan was still in his prime (although retiring for a second time).

Pro basketball went through a rough period after that, with some fans being turned off by what was perceived as “punkish” behavior by some of its stars — behavior that was rarely seen from the likes of Jordan, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and other big names of the ’90s.

Now, there’s no doubt a lot of it was perception. Turns out Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and others are actually decent people who just made some mistakes. But right or wrong, the league lost fans during that era, and a lot of them never came back. A lot of them also outgrew a league that suddenly seemed to be marketed toward 12 year olds.

Would the NBA be able to survive a lockout that consisted of lost games? Probably. Hockey lost an entire season in 2004-05. But the NHL is just now starting to win back casual fans, and it’s been six years since it shut down.

Stern addressed the collective bargaining agreement, which expires June 30, in a meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday. He said he hopes to avoid the same fate as the NFL by exhibiting a sense of urgency to get a deal done. An urgency, he indicated, the NFL lacked.

And that’s a good thing. Because whether you’re for the owners or for the players, or somewhere in between, only one truth remains — and it was summed up best by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver.

“Frankly, we’re running out of time,” Silver said. “We have roughly two months and a week to get a deal done before the expiration of this collective bargaining agreement. And I think on that point, (players’ association head) Billy Hunter and the union are in full agreement with us that we need to intensify these discussions.”

Amen, Mr. Deputy Commissioner. Now get moving, fellas.

Random Dribbles

* Texas forward Tristan Thompson is one of three Canada natives to declare for the NBA draft. Thompson is a freshman and expected to be selected within the top 15-20 picks. He played the majority of his high school ball in the U.S.. His high school and college teammate, guard Cory Joseph, is also a native of Canada and declaring. Wisely, Joseph won’t sign with an agent. The other Canadian declaring is Louisiana Tech forward Olu Ashaolu, a junior from Toronto.

* Lakers owner Jerry Buss is opposed to a move by the Kings from Sacramento to Anaheim, a minority owner of the team told an L.A.-based radio station. “Dr. Buss has led the charge on this,” said Tim Lieweke, president of AEG, the company that runs Staples Center, where the Lakers play home games. “We are on the same page as doc.” Also, Stern said the league may try to stall the move for a year “to see if Sacramento officials can make good on promises to build a new arena,” reported the Sacramento Bee.

* New Jersey GM Billy King said he doesn’t think the team needs to put a bunch of big names next to Deron Williams for the team to have a shot at the playoffs — which, he says, is the goal for next season. “When Joe Dumars put Detroit together I don’t think he said these are my five superstars,” King told the New York Daily News. “Ben Wallace wasn’t a superstar. Chauncey (Billups) wasn’t. (Dumars) built a team that won a championship, and they became household names.”

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO