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While NBA and players squabble, fans can only sit back and take it

The lockout is an issue between the owners and the players and no outside influence is going to make it end any time soon.

June 30, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Players' union chief Billy Hunter speaks to reporters after meeting with NBA team representatives in New York on Thursday.
Players' union chief Billy Hunter speaks to reporters after meeting… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)

Not that I don't live to cover sports labor stories, knowing how much you like reading about them …

Abbie Hoffman wrote a book called "Steal This Book," enabling him to profit from the system, while continuing to condemn it.

This column could be headlined "Stop Reading This Story," or, assuming you're still with me:

"Dear Owners and Players: Write When You Find Work."

As everyone said it would in an operatic two-year run-up, the NBA lockout arrived at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Friday.

In the question of the day, "W-w-w-what now?"

Life will go on exactly as it would have.

No one will even notice but the participants and crazed media outlets acting as if the tripods from "War of the Worlds" were advancing on the White House.

Since the NBA wasn't playing any games this summer, no worries, at least for the rest of us!

It's true, the owners and players have issues, but they're their issues.

We have no role in this, even if each side tries to mobilize us against the other, so let them worry about it.

The participants, themselves, haven't begun to worry, or do anything but put on show talks.

Despite a month of meetings, often two a day, they haven't begun bargaining in earnest … and won't for another two or three months.

W-h-h-hat happens if they can't start the season on time?

As someone with my finger on the pulse of the fans, I can tell you their … OK, his opinion.

What's the problem?

Wrote Craig Nelson of Torrey Pines in a recent email:

"Eighty games to eliminate the Kings. Yawn.

"A 20-game season followed by the playoffs is exactly what we want!"

Actually, it was worse, 82 games to eliminate the Kings but I think Mr. Nelson has something:

Forget an early January drop-dead start date, like the one in 1999.

They could make a deal by Feb. 1, start March 1 and still have plenty of time to eliminate the Kings!

Not surprisingly, a month of posturing didn't do much to close the Grand Canyon of a gap between owners and players.

They are near agreement on a 55%-45% split of basketball revenue … but each has the other taking the short end.

There's only one question, which won't be answered for months:

Is the NBA in such bad shape, owners would sacrifice games or even a season, as the NHL did in 2004-05?

Or is there a deal to be made?

Personally, I think if the players go from 57% to 50-52% of revenue and the owners increase revenue sharing among teams from $45 million to $200 million, they'll be fine.

Not that it would cover the $300 million in annual losses Commissioner David Stern cites, counting payments on loans to buy the teams.

On the other hand, players may even pay part of that for a stake in ownership, say a percentage of the capital gain when teams are sold.

(Although Charlotte's absentee owner Bob Johnson managed the trick, there's almost no such thing as a capital loss.)

(The Philadelphia 76ers just sold for a reported $280 million … up $155 million from their $125 million price in 1996.)

However it turns out, it'll be decided between the owners and players.

For the rest of us, nothing we say, write or think means anything.

This isn't about fairness. It's not a debate or a plebiscite, but collective bargaining.

If both sides play for sympathy, it's essentially just to kill time until September.

Public opinion means zip.

With fans behind them, baseball owners fought their players every time a deal ran out, trying to break the union … which only got stronger and more united until the final showdown that wiped out the 1994 World Series.

Baseball owners have lived in fear of the union ever since.

Of course, not every minute of these things is tiresome, to the point of torture.

Having covered stoppages in football, baseball and the NBA, my favorite was the 1987 NFL strike when replacements played the first three games.

I still remember a Raiders public relations guy marveling at the enthusiasm of perhaps 5,000 people in the Coliseum for the Masquerader opener.

You can do what you want. I'm dug into my couch for the summer.

If the office wants me, they'll have to come and get me.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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