Lockout takes players out of the picture

July 5, 2011


— It came to me several times over the winter, this feeling that the Rangers-Giants World Series had never happened. After sitting in the stands for that first Rangers game in 1972 and wondering for 38 years what an Arlington World Series would look and feel like, it was easy to think the whole thing had been a dream.

I didn’t expect similar feelings following the Mavericks’ marvelous championship run. So many years in the making, the championship celebration in Miami and the parade through downtown Dallas streets felt like a well-deserved reward for a franchise’s often frustrating but decade-long quest for achievement.

And then I took two weeks’ vacation and returned only to find that the Mavericks — at least those players that produced this city a championship — no longer exist.

At least that’s the case on the team’s website where, yes, it tells you right away that the Mavericks are champions. But if you didn’t know any better, you would think the Mavericks dancers had just taken the rest of the league by storm, not Dirk Nowitzki, whose picture has been replaced by what I have always felt is the team’s very confusing logo (what’s with the horse?).

Of course, this is nothing but the work of commissioner David Stern, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has no choice but to go along.

The NBA has joined the NFL on sport’s sideline, and I can’t help but wonder what the extremely casual sports fan makes of all these leagues shutting down the workplace at a time when most of us are part of a “sluggish” economy at best.

I’d like to sit here and say, “Well, you just don’t understand the situation here,” but really I don’t think that’s the point at all. I often wonder if the legal experts on both sides and the owners and the players themselves have a truly firm grip on what it is they’ve set out to accomplish.

The best I can say about the NBA’s decision to close its doors and “unfriend” its players (removing their photos from websites, how clever) is that it’s not as outrageous as the NFL’s suggestion that its model, too, is broken.

Listen, the one thing we know about any group of sports owners is that you can lock them all in a windowless room with a giant stack of money, and when you open the door 15 minutes later, the money will be gone and they won’t know what happened.

Every league is different, but the common thread in the current lockouts is that the owners want players to save them from offering bad contracts. No matter what kind of system that players’ lawyers submit to in order to get their clients back on the field of play, owners will always find loopholes that allow them to spend money foolishly.

The biggest laugh I get is from people saying that the NBA needs to follow the model of the NHL, which shut down for an entire season but enjoyed record TV ratings just a few years after.

Those Stanley Cup ratings are a product of four straight years of Red Wings and Penguins and Blackhawks and Flyers and, this year, Bruins in the finals.

NBA fans, you’re just going to have to ride this one out. Unlike the NFL, which I never thought for a moment would cancel regular-season games, the NBA will not play a full season in 2011-12.

But at some point, they will come back. And, yes, you will see Dirk Nowitzki, not only on the team’s website, but on a number of whatever national telecasts remain on the post-lockout schedule.

And the owners will have a new system, with something they perceive as a hard salary cap but will dutifully call something else (”flex” cap is the word of the week). It may even take them three or four years before they abuse it and cry for help once more.


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