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NBA lockout: Fans won't immediately forgive

October 14, 2011 |  8:00 am

NBA Commissioner David Stern and players union Executive Director Billy Hunter
Nearly every waking minute, the NBA consumed my life.

As a 10-year-old, I scoured newspapers and magazines. I watched nearly every televised NBA game, including the late-night playoff contests that went past my bedtime. And in those rare moments I wasn't watching basketball, I played it in the driveway, at the park and in organized leagues.

That enthusiasm came crashing down once the 1998-99 NBA lockout hit and reduced the season to 50 games. I refused to watch because the shortened season didn't have the same appeal, the quality dropped and the endless fighting over money bothered me. It then took me two full seasons before I warmed up to the NBA again.

Various emails, reader comments and Twitter messages sent to me recently provided reminders that many NBA fans feel the same way about this lockout as I did as a child. As the current work stoppage nears its fourth month, the inability for the NBA owners and players union divide $4.3 billion won't just reduce the 2011-2012 season. It will reduce their fanbase, and it will take a while for it to grow again.

Many in Los Angeles, one of the country's most devoted NBA markets, are following every labor meeting and will live and breathe purple and gold just as strongly as they did before the lockout, once the season starts. It's misguided to think fans will suddenly boycott games. Of course, they will come back. After all, 13 years later after its last lockout, the NBA has thrived to the point where last season it saw record television ratings and intriguing story lines. But my personal story echoes many fans' current sentiments, with uncertainty about exactly when they will again invest their time, energy and money in the NBA.

Publicly, both owners and players express regret that their disagreement unfairly affects the team, arena and concession employees as well as the fans who have no voice in the labor discussion. But that's the problem. Both sides at this point say they're prepared to withstand a financial hit to reach a deal to their liking, no matter how long it takes. Although neither side says it explicitly, that attitude conveys ignorance and implies a belief that most of the fanbase will welcome them back unconditionally once the lockout stops.

That's not going to happen. The NFL attracts the most attention. A sagging economy has made consumers stingy. And those workers lucky enough to have a job feel offended that billionaires and millionaires can't make sacrifices, as they are. That's why the NBA needs to resolve this quickly. The longer this labor fight goes on, the longer it will take for fans to come back. 


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-- Mark Medina

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Photo credits: Louis Lanzano / Associated Press