The NBA lockout is over, and it really just felt like an extended offseason with added resentment. It sort of reminded me of The Decision, except the lockout was way less interesting. The two are similar because fans interpreted them as abstract ideas of debatable business ethics and personal morality. As a spectator, it felt like The Decision ‘mattered’ more, however there was obviously way more at stake with the current labor negotiations. Both were disorienting fan experiences because even our most informed opinions are based on rumors, strategically released information, and the empty rhetoric of people who seemed alarmingly entitled.
Unfortunately, the NBA lockout never produced a seminal moment that was ceremonially officiated by Jim Gray or even resulted in a bitter owner sending out an angry e-mail in Comic Sans. Instead, we will just remember tired, old men in expensive sweaters holding a guerrilla press conference at 3 a.m. on an early Saturday morning. At least it is over, but in a way, the NBA never disappeared, because we kept up to date with players as they managed to stay in the headlines, stay in shape, or stay actively present during the negotiations.
The Charity Games, Street Ball Events, and Playing Overseas
This is a striking image of Marcus Camby sitting in an empty locker room without big headphones, flat-screen TVs, expensive swag, and a personalized nameplate to prove that he is an NBA player. He is an uncertain man in an empty room, about to suit up for some charity game that probably had its uniforms made at a youth sporting goods store. It is as if he has been stripped of his status and identity now that he is without a prestigious professional environment.
During the lockout, it became clear that we didn’t miss the actual games as much as we missed our relationship with the NBA lifestyle.
Nike found a way to romanticize the idea that even our favorite NBA players ‘just wanted to play ball’ with the poetic phrase “Basketball Never Stops.” People bought into that idea during the early days of the street ball highlights and the miscellaneous charity games that seem to be happening in every region. Then we realized that watching Kevin Durant score 200 points against a 5-foot-11 guy wasn’t very impressive. We also weren’t interested in seeing what Kendrick Perkins looks like playing guard. While charity games created a poor man’s version of the NBA lifestyle, they obviously never matched the level of competition. Did this mean that locked out players could successfully replicate a fulfilling competitive environment by going overseas?
Just last week, J.R. Smith made his Chinese professional debut, and went on to get injured at the end of a blowout. He was on the losing end, walked off the court in agony, put a towel over his head on the bench, and refused medical attention. Although he is the highest-paid player in Chinese League history, he got into a Chinese Twitter war on a service called Weibo with his team manager, and now everyone thinks that he is trying to escape from the Chinese hell that he created. Hey, that sounds like something he’d do if he played on a crappy team in the NBA!
If there is one idea that can give us strength, we could always remember: You can take the NBA player out of the NBA, but you can’t take the NBA player out of the NBA player.
LeBron James and the Idea of the NBA VIP Circle Stayed Strong
Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James stand on the sideline at a football game between Oregon and USC. Oh yeah, there’s Chris Bosh standing in the background, too. Seeing the image makes me feel like I’m right back in the heart of the 2010-11 NBA season, ready to talk about how the NBA elite are not competitors, but just pals who all want to play on the same team (as long as they can all have max contracts). It is also important to note that Chris Bosh standing in the background is indicative of his eternal third-wheel status. The lockout really stripped us of the only entity that we were allowed to hate and cyberbully — the Miami Heat.
Unless Oregon finally changes its name to “Nike University," these buddies shouldn’t be hanging out at any college game, even if they are just killing time during a lockout. Speaking of locked-out bros at college football games, the following image makes you wonder if four years at a top-tier college really helps you become a better basketball player.
The Role Player As a Union Representative
After reading a solid horror story about an overseas adventure gone wrong, you have to tip your hat to the unsung heroes of the lockout, whose only glory is an occasional photo opportunity where they look like they’ve been trapped in a conference room with old, rich dudes for days on end. These heroes are the team representatives for the players’ union. The players who were actually there. “In the shit,” not out building their international brands and diversifying their portfolios.
What do they actually do when they are there? Who cares. We must thank the role players for sitting thru what must have been an excruciatingly boring process for anyone, though they are theoretically trying to protect the best interests of the NBA player middle- and lower-class. I wonder if it is more or less boring and confusing than a graduate-level accounting class.
It’s weird to think of the reasons why NBA players would agree to get involved as their teams' union representative, responsible for relaying important information concerning the negotiations to their teammates. It’s never the star — usually a role player. Maybe it makes Matt Bonner a better teammate because he’s willing to sit thru ‘business crap’ that the majority of his team won’t understand. If the Spurs were to cut him, would there be a panic about who would have to take his position?
On the most important days of negotiation deadlines, a crapload of players showed up to huddle on the stage in what appears to be a photo op of unity. The potential motives made my mind race. I wonder if they just came to project a positive image to the general public, or to their fellow players. Were they just in town to take their kids on vacation, and stopped by for an hour? I imagine a role player like Etan Thomas is trapped at the proceedings; however, if Kobe Bryant showed up for two pointless hours, would the role players of the lockout negotiations be pissed about his headline-generating, yet ultimately unhelpful visit?
No, because role players know their role and are appreciative of the superstars that carry them.
We can always count on the concept of a role player to give us a moment to reflect on ‘players who are willing to do the dirty work necessary to win,’ whether it is on the court or sitting in a conference room while they are briefed on the status of negotiations. Even though the season was ‘in jeopardy,’ we could still partake in the same regular-season banter, speculative analysis, and circular psychoanalytic musing that keeps us fulfilled as NBA fans.
Apparently, America doesn’t really care about the NBA regular season having ‘gone missing’ like they would have cared about the NFL missing regular-season games. But now we know that the remaining niche of die-hard NBA fans can function with or without an NBA season because of the lingering emotional capital from our recent NBA renaissance. Only time will tell if ‘the casual fan’ will become less interested in the NBA because of the actual lockout, or if the problems that emptied arenas before the lockout started will still linger.
The loss of the NBA made me try to pinpoint what exactly I missed about the NBA during the lockout. Like most failed relationships, the ‘little things’ are what we miss the most. Watching the homer announcers in regional broadcasts. Getting overexcited about good players carrying bad teams. Analyzing late-game heroics and failures. High-scoring games between teams who don’t play defense. Announcers chuckling after a boneheaded play. It’s going to be so easy to pick up this relationship with the NBA, mainly because we continued to casually hook up in the form of YouTube highlights and off-the-court chatter.
As much as you might want to either forgive or forget the NBA for abandoning you as a human being or betraying you as a consumer, the NBA never disappeared if you truly love it.
Carles started the authentic content farm HIPSTER RUNOFF and is a contributor to Grantland, Bill Simmons' sports and pop culture site.
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