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      The No Basketball Association

      November 15, 2011
      From the column 'The Mercy Rule'

      The NBA makes people angry. Some people, not all, and generally not anyone you’d want to sit next to on either a long or short bus ride, but it makes a goodly number quite angry. This is not entirely the NBA’s fault, of course. This great nation is rich in these types of hemorrhoidal squeakers—the sort of people who won’t watch a sport they claim to like because they are pissed that uneasily retired backcourt hump Larry Hughes owns a bunch of fancy cars.

      These squeakers vote and have kids and watch Two and a Half Men. The more ambitious among them are members of the House of Representatives. They'll always be this way, and if the NBA disappeared—as well it might, with the NBA Players Association having voted to disband itself rather than accept the owners’ latest offer to settle the labor dispute—they’d just find something else to seethe about. It would be Gangsta Rap or Barack Hussein Obama or that They Make The Orange Juice Too Strong These Days.

      And that’s fine—life is difficult, and if fuming heartily about how some bullshit abstraction is ruining your happiness is what gets you through your commute, then by all means fume on that. But please, if that is who and how you are, both about the NBA and in general—please, please do not buy a NBA basketball team.

      It’s too late, of course. People just like that already own NBA teams, and comprise the hard-line faction that forced the lockout and shaped the league’s ultimatum-intensive negotiation approach. These are people like supremely Arizonan grievance machine and ace money-inheritor Robert Sarver and buffoonish mortgage-biz billionaire Dan Gilbert, who is best known for writing a MySpace-y kiss-off letter (in Comic Sans, naturally) to LeBron James after James left Gilbert’s Cavaliers to take his talents, vanities and designer sunglass collection to South Beach. The hardliners also count among their ranks the puffy, depressing, present-day Michael Jordan, who has transformed over the past dozen years from the world’s most beautiful athlete to an ulcer that somehow grew a mustache and developed a gambling addiction.

      These small-minded men have ascended high enough that they now can—and would—burn down their own mansions to spite people they think are their enemies. Or, without the metaphor, they’d follow a season of record revenues by bullying their way into a non-season and no revenues at all because they felt it was too difficult for them to make money before.

      Of course, it was the players who rejected the deal these owners offered on Monday, after four-plus months of negotiation gridlock, to bring on what NBA commissioner David Stern—snarl-smirk firmly in place, per usual—called “nuclear winter.” But, fundamentally, this is not all that complicated. A majority of NBA owners claimed not to be able to make a profit last season, despite that $4.3 billion in revenue; players made concessions such that owners would have an easier time making money; owners demanded a deal that would effectively guarantee profits even for those owners (like Sarver or Gilbert or Jordan) who were unable to turn a profit or deliver a competitive on-court product on their own; players rejected that deal, and are preparing to challenge the antitrust exemption that makes it possible for Sarver and Gilbert and Jordan to issue such demands. Which means that the NBA is headed for the wrong kind of court.

      And so here we are, in the wreckage they all made. Whoever and whatever crawls from the rubble at the end of the NBA’s nuclear winter—the game of basketball, which is and remains great, will certainly be among the survivors, happily—it’s a good bet that Sarver and Gilbert and Jordan will be there, unchanged. They will be peevish and unpleasable and aggrieved, quick to demand everything they believe they deserve because that is how they are. They will deflect blame and abdicate responsibility, socialize risk and privatize reward, because that is what they do. This type of rich person will always be with us, and they are as shame-resistant as they come. The embarrassment is left to those of us who wonder how people this stunted and venal and small wound up in charge of something so great.

      Previously – The Mercy Rule Monday Night Sack Garbage

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