Wiedmer: NBA late return is too early

Were I king of the world, the National Basketball Association would not be allowed to begin its season belatedly on Christmas Day. Since the richest athletes in team sports couldn't be bothered with worrying about anybody but themselves all summer and fall, I'd force them to wait until the college football bowls are over to start their strike-shortened schedule.

(Just to be clear, I wouldn't let the NFL, NHL or NCAA stage events on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, either. No offense to those who think otherwise, but have we become so obsessed with sports that we can't set aside 48 hours a year to focus on something more important than numbers on a scoreboard?)

Then again, there obviously are a lot of folks who look forward to the league's long tradition of marquee television matchups each Dec. 25. Otherwise the players and owners wouldn't have worked so hard to start the season with five made-for-TV pairings, beginning with the Boston Celtics visiting the New York Knicks at noon on TNT.

And given that, perhaps we shouldn't deny the nation's few remaining pro hoops junkies an opportunity for Santa to bring them their first NBA fix of the season.

Besides, at least one CNN Center restaurant manager in Atlanta will tell you that the NBA lockout has played Scrooge long enough to many independent businesses used to counting on the league's fans for a noticeable portion of their income.

"It's not just the Hawks," said Scott Humphreys, manager of Dantana's, an upscale bar and grille located a few yards from the entrance to Philips Arena.

"We lost the [NHL's] Thrashers [who left Atlanta for Winnipeg], too. To tell you that last month's numbers were abominable is putting it mildly."

It should be noted that Hawks games have never been at the top of Dantana's best sports moneymakers. That honor would go to the Southeastern Conference championship football game, which has been known to generate as much as $100,000 for a single day at the 450-seat restaurant.

"College sports are so much more powerful than pro sports," Humphreys said. "When the SEC or ACC tournament's at the Dome, or the SEC title game, we pack this place out. We might turn our tables over once during the night when the Hawks are playing, maybe twice for the Falcons. But it's constant traffic for a big college event."

That doesn't mean the Hawks don't have clout. Two managers at the Taco Mac restaurant at the CNN Center refused to talk about the impact the lockout has had on their business, saying only, "We've made a decision not to discuss that."

A store clerk at the Hawks' retail outlet at Philips -- "Team Gear" -- not only declined comment but said her manager wouldn't be available for at least two weeks, despite no one being in the store less than two weeks from Christmas.

The Hawks may not yet have an owner or a game under their belt -- Atlanta opens at New Jersey on Tuesday, then debuts at home the following night -- but they presumably still have enough power to discourage many businessmen from publicly criticizing them.

Of course, who has time to criticize owners when the players keep stoking the fans' ire? A recent Nielsen poll found New Jersey reserve post player Kris Humphries to be the least liked player in the league by the end of his 72-day marriage to Kim "Famous for being Famous" Kardashian. That means the strike lasted 89 days longer than their union.

Second on that list of least liked? Who else? LeBron James. But the poll was taken before news arrived that Kobe Bryant was divorcing his wife of 10 years after she apparently tired of his alleged affairs.

All you need to know about what Bryant's divorce could mean to the playoffs is to hear the words of Charles Barkley, who said the following when told that Vanessa Bryant learned of the alleged infidelity from other players' wives:

"That's never good for a team," Barkley told NBC late night talk show host Jay Leno earlier this week. "You keep your wives and girlfriends away from each other."

If not, Santa's apparently not the only one who finds out who's been naughty or nice.

The players' personal behavior isn't all the NBA must overcome after shaving 16 games off the usual 82-game schedule.

Commissioner David Stern nixing the Chris Paul trade to Kobe's Lakers is the worst kind of franchise building. Until or unless the owners vote for a hard salary cap somewhere in the future, let free enterprise rule.

But all that will shake out as it should in the weeks and months to come, especially since the regular season won't end until April 26, two weeks later than normal.

For this weekend and this weekend only -- especially Christmas Day -- I urge you to embrace the notion that NBA stands for No Basketball Allowed.

If you must watch television, tune instead to TBS, where the 24-hour "A Christmas Story" marathon promises to be Kardashian free. Unless, of course, she's spotted out on a date with Kobe. Should that happen, to slightly alter a line from the movie, the mere sight of it might pop out all of our eyes.