Thursday, October 27, 2011

Illegitimate Outrage in These Truly Outrageous Times

On Monday, October 11, 2011, at about 8:30 pm, and after a long day of work at two different jobs, David Stern and Billy Hunter caused me to unfairly yell at my housemate Elissa.

The incident that prompted the yelling is fairly insignificant.  I had been completely in the wrong -- I selfishly went back on a claim I had made earlier in the week, and used passive aggression in a really obnoxious way (as opposed to passive aggression used in a friendly, non-obnoxious way). When Elissa rightfully confronted me about my conduct, I overreacted and snapped back, like an irritable small dog, and sulked away.  Within ten minutes, however, my guilty conscious got the best of me, and I sheepishly apologized for my behavior.  Elissa, always the gracious housemate and individual, quickly forgave my transgressions.  She said to me, sympathetically, "I know you had a long day at work." I sort of nodded my head, smiled weakly, and left the room.  Yeah, work.  That must be it, I thought.  But deep down, I knew exactly what had set me off, and also knew that it probably wasn't as legitimate of an excuse for others as it was for me -- at least at that very moment.

You see, earlier that day, David Stern had announced that the first two weeks of the NBA season would be canceled since neither side had come up with a reasonable collective bargaining agreement.  This, of course, came as no surprise to any fan of the game that had been remotely dialed in to the ongoing labor negotiations.  Even calling these talks "negotiations" is somewhat dubious, as frankly, absolutely nothing has been negotiated yet.  After a summer of fiery rhetoric and infrequently scheduled meetings between the NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association yielded little progress on a number of issues, including a hard salary cap, more equitable sharing of basketball related income (BRI) and the length and amount of guaranteed contracts, Stern chose to cancel training camps and the preseason. Assumedly, that was supposed to be the wakeup call needed to get both sides back to the bargaining table with the mission to save the NBA season from themselves, and end a bizarre path towards mutually assured destruction.  But instead, little progress was made (despite the presence of a federal mediator appointed by President Obama) and Stern took it upon himself to make the lockout real. This year, I'd actually have to give a shit about Halloween, rather than do what I do each year, and tell folks I have a lot of basketball to watch tonight.  And believe it or not, it was this very thought -- that the NBA season was now officially on hiatus, that perhaps there would be no NBA season whatsoever, and that wouldn't be able to rely on the NBA as a crutch to escape and serve as an alternative to undesirable social interactions and events -- that caused me to snap at Elissa, and generally be an unpleasant grouch for the rest of the night.

As the NBA season slowly decays in front of our eyes, and as we remain completely powerless to stop the madness, I have come to grips with the damage the lockout has done to my personal interest and practical investments in the sport. Earlier in the summer, I argued that despite the length of the lockout, and the vitriol between the two sides, my NBA fanhood would stand the test of time and survive the labor stoppage. As it turns out, though, it's difficult to maintain a level of affection for a non-responsive lover, who apparently you had a one-sided relationship with for most of your waking life.  In general, I have been largely silent throughout the 119 days of the NBA lockout. Each day, I find myself growing increasingly distant from the game, both in terms of interpersonal discussion and somewhat structured analysis. Many friends sent me articles regarding the lockout that I never read, still in denial that the game was gone for a very prolonged period of time. My morning Internet blog roll -- TrueHoop, HoopsHype and The Basketball Jones -- was eventually locked-out as well as it became clear that NBA analysts literally had nothing to write about anymore. Sure, the sites continued to churn out content, but it was rarely worth reading. For example, ESPN's "5-on-5" series hypothesizes about an NBA that has been essentially frozen in carbonite, completely unchanged since Darth Vader got ahold of it at the end of the NBA draft.  The discourse is wildly vague, and the end product often seems unfinished and unsatisfactory.  But, what can you reasonably expect when there's literally nothing to discuss?  You get wild conjectures and baseless criticism, of course.  It's frustrating to read, and probably frustrating to write.

See, in my opinion, what you need to know about the lockout can be thought of in terms of pie. If you ask me, most things can be talked about in terms of pie, but that's probably besides the point. In this particular case, it's not about the size of the pie, but rather how big of a slice your side deserves. Both the players and the owners agree that they have, together, made a really big pie. Neither side really wants to be nice and share, however.  You see, before the last collective bargaining agreement expired, the players, who had essentially provided the ingredients needed to make the pie, were receiving 57% of the total pie, but were splitting it amongst more eaters. On the other hand, the owners, who provided the facilities needed to make the pie, were only getting 43% of the total product. Even though they got less pie, they only had to split it amongst 30 individuals who already had a lot of pie at home, while the players had to split their share between 450 individuals who had far less pie stored up. So, it didn't seem like that big of a deal for awhile. Over time, however, as the pie got bigger and more delicious, the owners began to feel dissatisfaction over their share of the pie, despite the fact their share of the pie was split amongst fewer individuals, and that the owners never really into sharing their pie in the first place.

So, after much discussion and consternation, the owners asserted that unless they got to take more pie from the players -- something along the lines of a 50/50 split -- they wouldn't let the players use their facilities to make the pie anymore. The players, indignant that the owners would offer ultimatums about the pie that worked hard to make, mostly for the benefit of the owners themselves, decided to harden their stance, and reject the 50/50 split outright.  Indeed, there are additional issues regarding the pie, such as which owners deserve the biggest piece from their share, and the fact that often times, owners ruin their own waistlines by overvaluing and overpaying some of their pie cooks. But essentially, the lockout can be summarized in one pie-related sentence: Though both the players and owners like their pie, they can't agree on how to appropriately split it up. And that's where we are today -- the arenas are dark, the stands are empty, and there's no basketball in sight.  And perhaps most infuriatingly, both sides are quick to blame the other about how and why we got to the mess we are in today.

But while both sides have the right to blame the other, I assert that the reality, at least from the perspective of the average American fan, is this: while the owners and the players argue about how much pie they deserve, they forget that they exist in a world where millions of people give up their miniscule amounts of pie to simply watch the two sides eat far more delicious and filling pie.  Furthermore, while both sides argue about massively enormous quantities of pie, they also forget that hundreds of people rely on the NBA to maintain their comparatively modest amounts of pie.  In a report released almost as an afterthought this week, Ken Berger wrote that 400 jobs had been lost as a result of the four-month old lockout, with no plans on re-employment should the lockout end anytime soon. While it may be easy to cordon off this debate to just those who earn millions (or billions) of dollars, it obviously is not that simple.  As fans, we are all consumers of the pie; we create the market that puts these players to work in very well-compensated positions, and fills these owners' stadiums. And believe it or not, this inequity is starting to trickle down to the plebeian level in very real ways.

Now, I realize the importance of maintaining proper perspective in the face of an undesirable personal situation.  In other words: it's important to remember that this is a first world problem.  Sure, there will be basketball, even if the entire season is canceled. For example, OKC Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has been doing a "Basketball Never Stops" campaign/tour around the United States, showcasing his skills in every type of game imaginable to prove that love of the game is enough to keep the people sated and entertained.  A number of other stars have taken Durant's theory, but -- surprise, surprise! -- monetized in into a 5-continent All Star world tour, in which some players will reportedly receive between $500,000 to $1,000,000 per game.  (If you ask me, I would say that earning a salary of roughly $20,000 a minute isn't the best way to garner support for your labor struggle, but hey, that's just me). And those are just the fillers being provided by currently out-of-work NBA players. The other basketball standards will still be around, and probably getting more attention than they've ever gotten before. The NCAA season just started a few nights ago, and here in Seattle, a city that has been locked out from the NBA permanently, there is a fair amount of interest in a stacked University of Washington team featuring local Garfield High School standout (and potential lottery pick) Tony Wroten. And finally, a number of NBA players like Deron Williams, Jordan Farmar, J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson have taken their talents to smoky gyms abroad in Turkey, Israel, China and Lithuania. So yes, there'll be ball to watch. But as fun as it is to see Kevin Durant score 66 points at Rucker Park, or Deron Williams playing in high school gyms halfway across the world, it's not the same. It's simply not the same.

Furthermore, the fact that basketball exists as a fairly insignificant part of the world -- and is not really the world, in and of itself -- has come into sharp relief over the past few months.  In the 119 days since the lockout began, Libya completed its revolution and left its former dictator to rot in a meat locker, Tunisia wrote a brand new constitution and voted in a completely new government, Syria inched closer to an all-out civil war, and the US government totally lost its pants, as well as the confidence of its citizenry. But that's not all.  In the 119 days since the lockout began, we learned that White America mistakenly confused Steve Jobs for Jesus Christ for many years, that Greece is well on its way to becoming Europe's first major casualty to austerity and a terminally sick Euro, and that according to US "intelligence" agencies, you can't trust a Mexican to assassinate a Saudi, even if the Iranian government is backing you up.  And perhaps most importantly, in the 119 days since the lockout began, we realized that despite our myriad of political affiliations and identities, we are the 99%, and we are angry as hell, no matter where you are in the world, and that we're not going to take it anymore.

With the world rapidly changing, and the NBA remaining frustratingly the same, it is now high time to state the obvious about the lockout: there are no sides to take in this argument; no side to truly rally behind.  Instead, we are left with the fact that both players and the owners are part of the privileged, wealthy, and powerful 1% that large populations of the world are now starting to mobilize against, that are finally being taken to task. As the world turns, and the NBA fixed in immobility, it is hard not to move on and focus my attention and energy on more important things. But, as I wrote earlier this summer, old habits die hard. That's why The Diss is back, if only temporarily -- to provide a place where I, as a fan, can vent my frustration, and attempt to understand how an ego-fueled and ego-filled labor struggle that ended the game has so dramatically taken me out of my game.  This will be my outlet to comprehend a world without basketball -- a truly frightening prospect.  Despite this, I refuse to let this project fall apart because millionaires and billionaires cannot agree on how many zeroes they deserve at the end of their paychecks.

So, as I attempt to revive and maintain The Diss in what already has been a long, bitter and frustrating labor stoppage, I promise you, my dear reader, and perhaps casual basketball fan, that this blog will balance an exuberant love of the NBA with the harsh realities of the labor stoppage, and will attempt to explain what it reflects not just about the wealthy and powerful in America, but our role in this operation as well. I am angry that there will be no basketball in three days.  I am angry that there many not be basketball for the next 365 days.  I truly feel dissed.  But since I don't have the power to end the lockout myself, maybe someone will listen to me complain about that powerlessness instead.

(At least, until the season starts, and all is quickly, and shamelessly, forgiven.)

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