NBA commits flagrant foul against game


PHILADELPHIA -- To the sporting world, a merry Christmas. Except the NBA, that is. To the owners and players of that labor-torn league, bah, humbug!

It is incredulous that an otherwise savvy enterprise like the NBA would pick what was worst about professional sports these two decades and follow that outline to what appears now to be an unavoidable conclusion -- the first cancellation of an entire season due to a labor dispute.

Trying to avoid that calamity are David Stern, the NBA commissioner, and union leader Billy Hunter, who held a secret meeting Wednesday night in Los Angeles. This meeting came shortly after Stern set Jan. 7 as the drop-dead date for the season. Unfortunately, there are still no signs of progress, pitting the NBA's fight over money at odds with the spirit of a holiday season that should be about giving.

So, bah, humbug to NBA owners and players, for putting on public display "yet more" of the sort of arrogance and greed only athletes and professional team owners seem to routinely concoct.

Shame on all you Scrooges for setting so poor an example for the young fans who hang on every word spoken by players, buy every product put forth by the clubs, religiously wear the properly endorsed sneakers and otherwise set their values by their heroes' actions.

Bah humbug for letting the lockout gobble up the All-Star Game that Philadelphians were proudly looking forward to playing host to in February, costing the city more than $35 million in potential revenues.

Philadelphia has always been integral to the success of the league. It contributed talents like Wilt the Stilt, Dr. J and the Kangaroo Kid. None of that mattered, though. The lockout and internecine warfare were much more important. Philadelphia, 76ers fans, basketball lovers around the world obviously weren't.

Then there is what was not served up yesterday with Christmas turkey and dressing. For several years, the NBA present to its fans has been a nationally televised game featuring Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, a nice way to round out Christmas Day that was fast becoming an annual tradition.

But Michael and the Bulls weren't on the menu. And who's to say we will ever see Michael play on Christmas Day, again?

Remember, when caught in the labor dispute in baseball, Michael Jordan, a union man, walked away from his flirtation with a baseball career rather than be construed as a replacement player reporting to camp with the other Chicago White Sox minor-leaguers in 1995.

Now, Michael is ready to walk away from the NBA and into retirement if and when the debacle of the NBA lockout ends, if his good friend, Charles Barkley, is to be believed.

If Jordan is so put off by this mess as to retire from the sport, again and for good, what a waste. What a shame. For when Jordan goes, so goes the golden era of the NBA, one which may not ever be seen, again, with the lockout of '98 the root cause of the demise.

It obviously has not mattered that the sorry lessons of strikes and lockouts were there for the NBA owners and players to learn from -- and learn how to avoid.

Baseball still hasn't fully recovered from its mistake. It took major events, like Cal Ripken's shattering of Lou Gehrig's Iron Man record in 1995 and last year's home run barrage by Mark McGwire to assure that large segments of the disenfranchised fan base gave the game another chance. The healing process is not finished, but if you listen to management and labor leaders in that sport, one thing seems certain: Baseball will play its Series in December before it allows itself to fillet its public image again anytime soon.

As baseball basks in the afterglow of McGwire's record run of 70 home runs, of the Yankees' seamless march to a world championship, of the meteoric rise of Sammy Sosa, the NBA continues to ignore the lessons learned the hard way by a bigger, more popular sport.

As the NBA catapults toward a senseless end, an arrogance more than a sense of sadness continues to pervade. The NBA's attitude seems to be that it will leave it to other entities to show how you can rise to incredible heights when the games come first. The NBA remains too busy trying to prove that you can ultimately win a labor war without the kind of collateral damage that costs you your most precious commodity: the fans.

So if this is the way the NBA chooses to go, then let the fans do the same. Say goodbye to NBA Christmas doubleheaders. Say hello to your kids. Don't mourn the absence of Michael on the tube. Instead, go shoot some hoops. Check out the college boys and girls playing their hearts out.

Then, if you have the NBA stuck in your craw, wish the NBA's billionaires and millionaires this one thing for Christmas: That they all got a thousand times more coal briquettes in their stockings than the NBA players had paying fans at their exhibition game in Atlantic City, N.J., about a week ago.

That would be the only fitting gift for a sport that has forgotten how to give of itself, or how to repay the millions of fans who put the NBA at the zenith it now foolishly takes for granted.

Pub Date: 12/26/98

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