They didn’t shorten it enough.
These days, all sports’ regular seasons seem like interminable waits for the real deal, even if they’re cut from 82 games to 66, crammed into 123 days that started on Christmas, fooling the veterans, most of whom apparently stopped working out at Thanksgiving.
If it was an inelegant rush to put this mess behind them, you could see the season as a triumph… if you fell for two years of rolling hype that held that the NBA, coming off two record revenue seasons, might not have a season.
It would be a shame for them to go through this—I’m hoping you understood this was their problem, not yours, and you could have cared less—without trying to figure out what happened, which would only reveal itself over time.
So, here’s mine:
After decades of union givebacks, with the economic balance still tipped toward the players and unprecedented militancy among the owners, Commissioner David Stern knew he had to get more than he had asked for since getting the first U.S. salary cap in 1983.
Like Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, Stern orchestrated a dire rising tide, noting the possibility of “nuclear winters” and the folding of entire franchises.
Of course, even if this is hard to believe, Stern had an ace up his sleeve!
First of all, nobody was folding.
There really was an owner about to go belly-up, prior to the lockout: New Orleans’ George Shinn.
However, instead of letting him dump the Hornets in a fire sale ahead of a looming work stoppage, Stern assessed the other owners $318 million–$11 mill each–to cash the long-time embarrassment out, taking over the Hornets until they got a labor deal and got a better price.
Unfortunately, this made Stern a de facto owner, as well as the owners’ impartial referee.
This became a bummer when Stern, the owner, rejected GM Dell Demps’ deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers.
It wasn’t just indefensible as the mother of conflict of interests, provoking a firestorm in New Orleans, which Stern was protecting, or, at least, keeping whole until he could sell it.
With the conflict unmasked, Stern, the impartial referee, realized he couldn’t let Stern, the owner, arbitrarily turn down all offers for CP3.
It was true enough. The deal three-way deal with the Lakers and Rockets was only arguably fair if you overlooked the fact the Hornets would rebuild around Lamar Odom, 32, Luis Scola, 31; Kevin Martin, 28, and Goran Dragic, 25.
The Clippers, on the other hand, could offer a bunch of young players—Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq-Aminu and Chris Kaman, as it turned out—plus Minnesota’s upcoming No. 1 pick, which looked like it could be 1-2-3.
Stern had no choice but to OK it, turning the balance of power on its head in Los Angeles, or, at least, creating one.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, not to mention the Lakers and Rockets, Gordon was hurt, Aminu was bad and the Timberwolves weren’t bad enough, locking the pick in at No. 10 unless the Hornets’ 4% chance of drawing one of the top three comes in.
Oh, and with Gordon out most of the season, Dragic wound up becoming the best player in either deal aside from CP3.
OK, so that didn’t turn out to well for anyone, except the Clippers.
Meanwhile, back in the long drawn-out labor talks …
Time was on Stern’s side, knowing as only he could that he could turn back the clock, recapturing millions the players and owners had already lost to sweeten his offer.
Nov. 1, the scheduled start of the season came and went.
Nov. 15, projected as the deadline for a Dec. 1 start, came and went.
Dec. 1 came and went.
Amid the wall-to-wall, 24/7 consternation, Stern started dropping hints about making up some of the games.
It still took some doing to get an agreement acceptable to his hawkish owners, who were led, oddly enough, by former luxury taxpayer king Paul Allen of Portland and Charlotte’s Michael Jordan, who, as a player, once told the Wizards’ Abe Pollin that if he could sustain his losses, he should sell his team.
The season started.
There were some surprises, if not shocking ones:
San Antonio wasn’t old any more, with a roster full of good, young players around its veteran core, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Chicago was even good without Derrick Rose, which was lucky, because the Bulls were without him almost half the time.
The Clippers were no longer the Clippers.
Nevertheless, it still wasn’t good enough for the Clippers to overtake the Lakers, who were still a reasonable facsimile of the Lakers, without Phil Jackson, the triangle or Odom, despite starting 10-8, amid the players’ unease with their new coach, Mike Brown.
Miami was Miami, no more, no less, a surprise since the Heat looked like it needed only a mid-level-exception-type big man.
Oh, and Dwight Howard was completely out of his gourd.
Intent on not avoiding the mistake LeBron James made, leaving Cleveland, Howard turned in all directions, spinning like a top, and fell over where he was, asking to be traded to New Jersey, turning down a chance to go there months later when the Magic insisted it would pull the trigger, opting in for next season… and then, after proclaiming his loyalty, turned on the organization again, blaming it for reports he wanted coach Stan Van Gundy fired after years of publicly rolling his eyes at everything he had done.
For the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of the Magic’s woe, Howard then hurt his back and underwent surgery.
Now, the Magic, who by now ought to be getting the hint that continuing to spurn their extension offers means he still plans to leave, would have trouble trading him if they do figure out it’s the only way to go.
In things that weren’t surprises, but were fun nonetheless, the Trail Blazers went to hell in a handbasket.
The end loomed as Allen’s frustration with the career-stopping or ending injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, both princes, led to revolving GMs, with three in three years, and an ongoing search for No. 4.
Of course, this, and the Bobcats’ 7-58 record, explains why Allen and MJ took such hard lines.
They knew this was coming. For them, canceling the season was the best-case scenario.
The curtain falls, at least on the regular season, the prelude to the Real Season, to find Allen, whose tax bills once approached $50 million—annually–bleating about the money he’s losing now while running his team into the ground, and suggesting he might put it up for sale, again.
That roar you heard was Trail Blazer fans chanting, “Sell, please sell!”
Unfortunately for Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who knows something about the joy of oligopoly, even a socialist system like the NBA’s, which guarantees him 50% of everyone’s revenues, can’t make Portland fans buy tickets.
Oh, and Stern sold the Hornets!
The $366 million he got barely covers the $318 million purchase price plus the money the Hornets lost since.
On the bright side, it ties the 2011-12 season up with a neat bow. Not only did the NBA play one, after all, in the best news of all, it’s over.