Wiedmer: Owners, players don't seem to see NBA can be irrelevant

Wiedmer: Owners, players don't seem to see NBA can be irrelevant

October 12th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

NBA Commissioner David Stern, center, talks with reporters after leaving an NBA labor talks meeting , Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, in New York. Stern canceled the first two weeks of the season after players and owners were unable to reach a new labor deal to end the lockout. At left is Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. Opening night was scheduled for Nov. 1. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The noted 16th century professional sports historian Thomas Tusser once noted, "A fool and his money are soon parted."

The National Basketball Association's owners and players apparently have decided to become the textbook example of that proverb.

In a move that could only be described as decidedly stubborn at best and downright stupid at worst, the NBA formally canceled the first two weeks of the season, pulling the plug on exactly 100 games from Nov. 1 to Nov. 14.

Not that much of the nation will notice, what with college football's Game of the 21st Century scheduled for Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., between LSU and Alabama.

Beyond that, the World Series could just be wrapping up, the NFL will be in full bloom and college basketball will be just beginning its most anticipated season in years.

And that's just one of the initial problems the NBA has in jettisoning even a small portion of its regular season: What if no one notices?

In fact, what if no one notices all season? After all, excepting extraordinary performances -- the Celtics winning their first 20 games, Kobe Bryant scoring 87 points, Dallas owner Mark Cuban going four days without a technical foul or a fine -- the league already plays the first third of its season in the witness protection program, pretty much confined to weeknights on cable and a few dunks on ESPN's Top 10 plays of the day.

Since ESPN has its own NBA contract, it isn't hard to see the Mothership deciding to fill its empty slama jama highlights with a sort of greatest hits repeats. On Nov. 3 it could replay the greatest dunk thrown down on any past Nov. 3, for instance.

Heck, if those happened to be Michael Jordan or Dr. J replays, they might even be an improvement.

But it's not just November and December and early January -- bowl games and NFL playoffs -- that should concern the pro game's owners and players. February is for football recruiting, the start of spring training, the Daytona 500 and NCAA tourney participants coming into focus.

They don't call it March Madness because the pros already have played 60 games and still have 25 percent of the season to go. It's Madness because the college game is one and done at this point, instead of an endless best-of-seven format that runs midway through June.

Then there's April at Augusta National, baseball's regular season begins and -- especially here in the South -- spring practice. Kobe? Who's Kobe?

All of which brings us to the three weeks in May after the Kentucky Derby's been run and the first half of June. So, yeah, for about five weeks we'd dearly miss the NBA, if we could remember it by then.

And that's what the players don't seem to get. Maybe the owners are no better, but the owners are far richer. They'd miss their NBA bank deposits, but they'd survive without them.

The players are different. They may currently have the highest average salaries of any team sport athletes, but paying for that fourth Porsche or third home to house their posses won't be so easy on collegiate assistant coaching salaries, for those who have degrees.

Beyond that, ask any pro baseball or hockey player how much good a season without their sports did them. It nearly killed both, especially hockey, which still struggles to eclipse women's weightlifting and men's (non-Olympic year) gymnastics ratings.

In fact, you can almost see the "Saturday Night Live" skit now, a boarded-up Madison Square Garden in the background.

The first scene -- as the theme to "Gone With the Wind" softly plays -- shows a faux Spike Lee, tears streaming down his face, asking his favorite New York Knick on Nov. 1: "Without the NBA, where shall I go, what shall I do?" The player arrogantly replies, "Frankly, Spike, I don't give a [darn]."

The skit then fast-forwards to April 10, tears streaming down the face of the same Knick, MSG still boarded up, the "Gone With the Wind" theme again playing.

Only this time it's the player who asks, "Without you, Spike, where shall I go, what shall I do?"

Replies a disgusted Spike as he rips up the last of his season tickets, "Frankly, bro, I don't give a darn!"

Don't think it can happen?

Consider the following quote from Billy Hunter, the executive director of the players' union:

"I'm not sure, in this kind of economy, that if there's a protracted lockout whether the league will recover," said the captain of this ship of fools.

If only the players could channel the ghost of Thomas Tusser before it's too late.