If a tree falls in a forest... you know the rest. Well if ten NBA players play in a charity benefit game and nobody comes did it really happen? While there were a few fans and some desperate reporters at Saturday's benefit game at Coolidge High School in Washington D.C., it wasn't the turnout the players or the promoters of the event were expecting. This support or lack there of is a bad omen for players, as the lockout wears on.
Superstar Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, phenom Washington Wizards guard John Wall and eight other NBA players threw down absurd dunks, hit half court threes and talked smack all game long; it was like a pickup game you'd find in any city in America. The Coolidge gym, no massive coliseum by any stretch, was half full at best. Maybe it was due to lack of promotion or bad weather, but the rows of empty bleachers should be a warning to the stars around the league. Get to work on a new collective bargaining agreement because fans are starting to forget about you.
There's a lot of blame to go around for the train wreck that is the NBA right now. The owners are locking the players out, yet they can't seem to agree on what they want. The leader of the lockout push seems to be Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, an amazingly hypocritical move considering recent history. Remember it was Gilbert's Cavs who went well over the salary cap to try to keep LeBron in Cleveland. Remember it was Gilbert who gave Mo Williams $51 million and Anderson Varejao $50 million. With LeBron in South Beach, it's now Gilbert who wants to institute a hard cap to limit team spending. In the lockout negotiations Gilbert is the kid on the playground who takes his ball and goes home because he doesn't think his team is good enough.
It's the fault of the players that owners like Gilbert haven't been exposed for what they're doing. During the NFL lockout, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, arguably the three biggest names in the league, filed an anti-trust suit against the NFL. While this wasn't the sole reason that the lockout was eventually settled, it made it clear that the league's top players were irate enough about the work stoppage that they would put their names on a lawsuit.
The NBA players union is still intact at the moment so no players will be filing similar suits, but there's no reason why the league's biggest stars won't speak up. We've heard nothing but publicist jargon from all of the NBA's stars so far. Where are LeBron and Dwyane Wade? Where's Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan? I give the younger guys like Derrick Rose and Durant some leeway because they haven't been around the league for very long but why aren't the veteran players speaking out?
There's no sport in the world with more marketable athletes than the NBA. These guys can sell everything from sweatshirts to energy strips, yet they can't rally the fans behind them to pressure the owners into lessening their demands?
With the exception of the NBAPA representatives, nobody seems to have a strong opinion on what's happening to their league. These pro-am games that Durant and others are organizing are a nice gesture but eventually fans will stop caring about games that mean absolutely nothing.
I'm not sure if it's because they're already incredibly wealthy or they just don't want to rock the boat, but this passivity from the NBA elites will not help a sport whose popularity has fluctuated in recent years. The NFL players were going crazy about a possible work stoppage (see James Harrison); the NBA guys seem content to ride it out. The fans want to see a little fire, some outrage about games being missed rather then just resignation that it's inevitable. The players in the Coolidge game Saturday found out what the rest of the league may find out soon. If they don't make a big push towards getting the lockout settled in the next couple weeks, then this league could be set back years.
If they want to play this year, it's time for the stars of the NBA to step up off the court.