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Posted-Up: Exactly what we’d hoped would never happen

Eric Todd: If you believe the reports (which in light of how much media posturing there has been up to this point, how can you completely?), it looks like we might not see an NBA game until January or later.

Watching (reading about) all this from afar, I can’t help but in some way relate it to the larger social/political unrest that has befallen the country in recent weeks. The timing is just too perfect.

Now, this isn’t to say I feel there is some grave injustice being perpetrated on the players. To be clear, everyone involved in this mess has a thousand times more money and opportunity than I will see in ten lifetimes. There are no have-nots in this particular play.

Nevertheless, it’s just hard not to see this in terms of workers vs. management, a game that management has never lost and thus one in which they must necessarily play the villain.

Personally, I’m not sure how to feel right now. Depending on the moment, I’m torn between wild, directionless fury and crushing ennui.

Jacob Mustafa: There’s no in between for me, as I am concurrently mainlining both of those feelings right about now.  Yeah, all of the politics of this remind me of a million fruitless labor disputes, even if this union holds a lot more leverage than most unions and even most NBAPAs before it, and this evokes the memory of this year’s labor dispute in Wisconsin, where a privileged union was taken out behind the shed and quickly robbed of all of its rights (and the leader of said movement, or its figurehead at very least, Governor Scott Walker, finds his name synonymous with “recall” in his state, a fate that generally befalls such short-sighted, aggressive union-busters. Hmm…).

But **** that noise. I just want some damn basketball. How in the hell did we get to this point, this degree of impasse in which both sides look more quickly to court the media’s favor than actually get a product back out to their consumers? When did basketball forget anything resembling its beauty and decide to replace all of its aesthetic grace with the most abhorrent, most callous aspects of politics? This entire lockout has forever teemed with sociopolitical implications and parallels that seemed ripe to be written when I could look back on all of this as that cataclysm that never happened. But now, given its gelid reality, the miserable feeling that comes when all of that protected muscle and bone and flesh become exposed to the singe of the horrible truth? I can barely speak, much less analyze.

Eric Todd: It does seem that we, the fans, are the real losers in this puerile dispute. With the uncertainty that surrounds so many of our lives and livelihoods recently, isn’t a healthy (or even unhealthy) distraction exactly what we need to keep our fragile optimism afloat? A reason, however frivolous, to be excited about waking up in the morning or coming home at night is still a reason, and for many of us, it’s a necessity.

It seems to me that that’s the major risk in all this, that people will just stop caring. Because just like all businesses, with no market, there can be no sales, so the longer the two sides squabble over money, the less money there will be for either to split.

Not that I care so much about their money mind you, but, to me, that’s just why all this makes so little sense. For the past several years, through all the foreboding talk of this apocalyptic lockout looming, I’ve never actually thought it would come. Especially after the end of last season, with ratings higher than they had been in over a decade and some of the most entertaining postseason storylines (let alone actual games) I can remember, I thought there would be no way. There would be no way the league would squander such momentum. There would be no way, no matter how much money either side wanted from the other, they would risk this kind of damage to their businesses and to the sport as a whole.

Obviously, I was just naïve, and all those who claimed the sky was about to fall were just looking up.

Jacob Mustafa: Even if you had seen it, would you have been able to truly understand? Or would you have just rubbed your eyes and hoped that it had been an apparition, the product of cynicism formed long before you’d ever heard of a Carmelo Rule or limited Bird Rights? No one could imagine that anyone would ever put a year (or more) of Chris Paul’s and LeBron James’ and Kevin Durant’s primes on the line, dangling in the balance as the grossly wealthy feel slighted by the even wealthier. No one ever could have believed that those guys would contribute to such a sin against the universe themselves. Yet here we are, with no one to blame but everyone involved. And no place to yell but into a pillow, as silently as we all are in our own collectively miserable fates, waiting with cash in hand to pay for a League Pass that will never come. Do you think Eurobasket’ll take my money?

Eric Todd: They absolutely will, and they’ll also gladly accept the NBA’s players and the profits they bring with them. To me that’s the biggest difference between this lockout and the last. In the past ten years, basketball has grown into a genuinely global phenomenon. The players can and will go play elsewhere. We’ve already seen them do it, even when there was an NBA season to be played. My fear is that if the owners don’t soon realize that they own a basketball business and not the business of basketball, the entire season could be lost, or even something worse.

Posted Up is an ongoing conversation between two friends, writers, and basketball enthusiasts:  Jacob Mustafa and Eric Todd.

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On the NBA: At This Bloody Critical Juncture