One of the many canards being tossed around right now regarding the NBA lockout is that a prolonged labor stoppage will alienate the league's fans for good.
The fans will be back.
The NBA could miss 10 games, 20 games, 50 games or even an entire season ... and the fans will be back. And for a very simple reason: where else are we going to go?
Sure, the NHL was devastated by losing the entire 2004-05 season due to a lockout and to this day hasn't recovered, but hockey was on its way to becoming a niche sport anyway. And yes, it took Major League Baseball many years and a lot of steroid injections to recover from their 1994-95 strike. But even before the 2004-05 NHL lockout and the 1994-95 baseball strike, how many "star" players could you honestly name in those two sports? Five? 10? How many full NHL or MLB games did you honestly watch on television? How many do you honestly watch now?
For whatever reason, we as Americans - and especially young Americans - like ample possessions in our sports. Or, put another way: scoring and fourth-quarter comebacks. And you can only get those in two of our five major league sports: the NFL and the NBA.
Baseball is a wonderful sport to be sure, but in many ways it's a relic of the past. A throwback to The Civil War when there weren't exactly a lot of sporting options and because it was the first sport we played (and the only substantive summer sport alongside MLS), we stand by it. But how many 18-34 year olds who live outside of Boston, New York, Chicago or St. Louis are baseball obsessed?
Hockey, like soccer, falls into what I call the "pinball / low scoring" sport category where the athletes have little, if any, control over the ball / puck, get only a few shots to score in any given game and a 2-0 game can feel like a 30-point blowout in the NFL or NBA. Additionally, with baseball and hockey athletes covered in hats and masks, and soccer athletes performing so far away from the stands, American fans rarely develop an emotional attachment to the stars in those three sports.
NFL fans hardly develop an emotional attachment to their star players, either (unless they're on their fantasy teams, of course). But the NFL comes complete with plenty of possessions, lots of scoring, fourth-quarter comebacks and ritualistic, every-Sunday 16-game season where every game actually matters. And nothing will ever top that. But if there are three things that American sports fans love - possessions, scoring and forth-quarter comebacks - only two sports offer it.
Additionally, the NBA is enormously popular among younger sports fans ... hence why there are almost as many NBA blogs as there are blogs dedicated to the NFL and Major League Baseball combined. Within SBNation's own network of blogs, NBA blogs take the lion's share of traffic.
Major League Baseball and the NHL have no Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Dwight Howard to keep us captivated. They have no comparable to Derrick Rose, Kevin Love or Blake Griffin who will assure a thrilling NBA game for years to come. Nothing in Major League Baseball or the NHL can match the intrigue of how the Heat come back from a disastrous NBA Finals performance next season, whether or not Kobe wins ring number six to match His Airness, how Dirk Nowitzki defends his title, Carmelo Anthony returning to Denver to play the Nuggets, and so on.
So regardless of how long and ugly the 2011 NBA lockout proves to be, the fans will be back and will be back in droves. Maybe not in the stands initially, but certainly with television viewership and website readership about the NBA as soon as the lights come on again.
After all, there are only so many 2-0 baseball, soccer or hockey games that a guy can sit through.
On to the links...
NBA players worry how fans would react to lockout - ESPN
NBA players who just finished a season capped by the highest rated championship series in more than a decade are concerned about how their labor dispute and a potential work stoppage before next season will affect their surging fan base.
NBA lockout problems - Revenue sharing owners' responsibility - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for ESPN
Abdul-Jabbar writes that the issues are complex and the stakes are high, but the NBA's labor issues can be addressed if the owners can find ways to tweak the game's financial structure.
NBA Salary Cap Works Perfectly ... For One Of Its Goals - SBNation.com
The NBA wants salary concessions in the name of competitive balance, while showing itself to be rather uninterested in the real fix for competitive imbalance, writes Tom Ziller.
Jonathan Abrams on NBA Player Association director Billy Hunter - Grantland
Billy Hunter's long, strange career.
Why have NBA's biggest stars gone quiet at crucial time? - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball
There's an NBA lockout in effect. But it's hard to tell as stars flirt with rinky-dink overseas clubs and promote shoes. Ken Berger says the NBPA needs their influence right now.