Money. Where are we going to get it? Will it be enough to pay our rent, or medical bills, student loans, mortgage? Industries are cutting pensions, going on hiring freezes, halting annual bonuses and raises. Our wallets are tightening as we go through economic inequalities that haven’t been felt since the 20’s. And it’s even spread to the NBA too, right? Players are being squeezed out by fat-cat owners who want to pad their profit margins; they’re being unfairly compensated, earning 1 cent for every dollar the NBA makes, right? Not even close.
The NBA players and owners have chosen a really stupid time to fight about who gets to be richer. And frankly, I can’t relate to that, and I am betting that you can’t either. So, the NBA players, owners, and their “problems” aren’t moving me to sympathy–they’re moving me to hockey. Neither side of this dispute being identifiably victimized. And because of this, the product that we’re missing, the NBA, is not ACTUALLY being missed. After one of the most thrilling seasons I can remember, they’re ruining all the excitement! I almost want the season to be cancelled, so I can stop hearing about their whining and fighting. I’ll move on like everyone else and anticipate college basketball. Besides, it’s not like i’m lonely. I’ve got hockey to watch.
I’m a New Yorker. Everyday, I hear more stories about the people occupying Wall Street, the increasing unemployment rate (reported at around 9% with the real figure just over 16.6 %), the national debt, the rising number of people defaulting on their student loans, etc. You can’t walk down the street here without thinking about money. An unlimited metro card is $108 per month. A beer costs 6 bucks. A two bedroom apartment, over $2000 rent, and that’s only if you’re going to move out to Brooklyn or Queens (hello!). You have to ration nights out as if they were days off work–hoping you get a handful each year. But obsession with, and pressures of, money are not exclusively New York preoccupations. Everyone, everywhere, is worried about their financial stature. Our economy is in the toilet, but it doesn’t affect the wealthy the way it does the working class. This is why the protesters (called the 99%) are fed up with top 1% of Americans who control more wealth than the bottom 90% combined.
We make peanuts, but we take solace in a few conveniences that make working our asses off, well, worth it. Beer. Friends. Basketball. But when your favorite distraction no longer acts as a distraction, but rather a reminder of something painful, than you need something new. [By the way, hockey is the best bar sport ever. I went to Foley’s, a Penguins bar, last weekend to watch Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo. And had a great time. Hockey fans wearing jerseys shouting at the televisions, buckets of beer, heckling… it felt like a playoff game. Plus, they all introduced themselves to me and chatted me up like I was one of the crew. It was perfect.]
Here’s what’s happened in the past two months. The NBA players have become the 1%. They have the same attitude of Goldman Sachs, City Bank, etc. They’ve adopted this new, crazy idea, that they shouldn’t have to make concessions. That their product is so essential, that despite the losses the league is accruing, they will not sacrifice or change (much) in order to continue playing.
When David Stern tried, albeit with an iron fist (the dude’s not a cuddly bear… ask Bryant Gumbel), to get the players to share more of their 57% split of revenue, Kevin “I-can’t-even-relax-on-elephant-tranquilizers” Garnett screamed profanities at him (something he picked up from Dwayne Wade–and we wondered why Chris Bosh cried all the time last season). Can you imagine what your industry would be like if the primary labor force, NOT executives, received 57% of revenues? Um, sign me up for that! And if that model was destroying the profitability of the industry, and a 51% split (which could probably be negotiated up a smidge) was introduced, you’d have to shoot my legs off to keep me from running to that deal.
But if the NBA players are acting like the 1%, what does that make the owners? The 99%? Are they supposed to get my sympathy? Can a man like Robert Sarver who REFUSES to improve his roster, who, for the past 6 years has been lucky enough to ride piggyback on the shoulders of Steve Nash, constantly selling off any asset that Nash trumped up with gaudy numbers for cash money… how can that man be the good guy? The Suns could have won 3 championships in the past seven years if Sarver would have gone over the luxury tax, resigned any of his marquee guys (other than Nash), or not overpaid role players (like Channing Frye) in the hopes that we wouldn’t notice the lack of an all-star talent because their aggregate income is the same as Amare’s. (As if anyone could be duped into thinking that 4 guys, all paid too much, equal one STAT, Lebron, Melo, Williams.) Basketball is not a sport of volume. That’s football. To win in the NBA, you need a transcendent guy or guys (depending upon the position) surrounded by smart, reliable, replaceable cogs. But Sarver doesn’t care about winning. Sarver has one motivation. Sell out as many home games as possible, hopefully make the playoffs, thereby ensuring more sell-outs. And then, sell-out. Dump off the pieces of each overachieving team for cash considerations. Then draft incomplete, cheap players, overpay role guys, and hope that Steve Nash can hide their deficiencies and get them back to the playoffs so he can do it again. Robert Sarver is Monty Burns. And you can’t sympathize with that.
So where does that leave us, the fans? We’ve got billionaire owners, a lot of which suck, fighting with millionaire players, who are making BANK. Reminding all of us, that if we don’t like our compensation, well, we can just suck it, because we don’t have the luxury to hold out. During our economic woes, this situation is so ludicrous and annoying, that even I’m starting to hope the lockout lasts the entire season. I love basketball more than anything. But these guys have lost me and I’m tired of hearing about it.
(SIDENOTE: This is not for the players deep on the bench, the lowest paid, league minimum guys (lowest available pay for a rookie last year, 473,604.), the guys who will have to fight like hell to stay in the league for three years. Missing these paychecks matter to them, but, they are the real 99%. This lockout isn’t about them. For some unlucky SOB, this was going to be the one year that they made it to the big league and got a nice salary, something to ride out for the rest of their lives. But, those minority voices are being ignored, and greed is calling the shots.)
So for now, I’m going all in with hockey. Because it’s on. Because it’s a distraction. Because they’ve had their lockout, and realize how awful losing a season is. Because it does what sports do best, excite, energize, and entertain. Because on Wednesday, when the Winnipeg Jets blew a 3-1 lead to Toronto and had one last chance to win in a shootout, I stopped thinking about my next credit card bill, my monstrous student loan, my shitty cell phone, my low-paying job, my overpriced apartment, and the overwhelming dread that none of these things are getting better anytime soon. I was on my feet in my living room with my hands on my knees. I was screaming at a regular season game streaming from my computer. I had just texted my friends BELIEVE, a hold-over from our lifetime obsession with the Phoenix Suns. And I was thinking one thing. Make the puck boys. Make that stupid, puck.