There is no more optimism here. With two weeks of the season easily canceled on non-issues such as the size of the luxury tax and the length of mid-level exception contracts, I now understand that the small-market/hawk owners weren’t just a small voice in the room, they were the room, and they forced David Stern into his second work stoppage in the last three tries. The utterly perplexing, idiotic, stupefying decision by the NBA to irrevocably damage the reputation of the league (again) is beyond reproach, and right now I don’t have the energy or the will power to dissect an argument that obviously makes no sense. As dear Alfred put it, “some men just want to watch the world burn.” So here we are, the likelihood of a season starting on time now at 0%, and the likelihood of having a season at all dropping more and more by the minute. But there is one silver lining that puts a smile on my face: the owners will eat this decision for decades to come. Why? Twitter.
A few months ago my roommate introduced me to the world of 140 character status updates. At least that’s what I thought of the service before I tried it. A glorified circle-jerk of people putting up Facebook statuses in realtime. But my opinion changed quickly. A global trend could influence the viewpoints of hundreds of millions of people, all within the time it takes to refresh your twitter feed. Instantly the middle man became obsolete. Suddenly the amount of followers a person has is the currency that matters, not zeroes on the end of a paycheck. While famous people are popular, so are those that took to the service early from their basements, gained a massive following, and now show up on the twitter feeds of thousands, or even millions, without the help of “professionals” whose job it was to spin and manipulate the facts until the “truth” was whatever they wanted it to be.
The PR people of 1998 (when the last lockout occurred) are akin to Best Buy in an Amazon world, or AOL in the time of Verizion FIOS. With players now able to speak their mind uninterrupted, the fans have unprecedented access to the league’s players, from Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) to Jared Dudley (@jdudley619). While the NBA has imposed draconian gag orders on its teams from discussing the lockout, NBA players have been taking to twitter, defending their position to fans, getting “mainstream” press coverage from their interactions, and slowly turning minds that were against them and building up confidence in those that already supported them. While Steve Nash (@stevenash) and Derek Fisher (@derekfisher) have been communicating directly with fans, getting fans to understand that a union is a union if the workers are playing basketball or building cars, the NBA has been keeping their greatest weapons on the sidelines. Mark Cuban (@mcuban) can’t say a word, but his players can eviscerate the league’s position and build up their own following without any type of repercussions from the league.
Granted, some players are just in it to build their brand (looking at you @RealLamarOdom), but many others are taking to Derek Fisher’s call to #StandUnited, and the outcome will only be viewed as utterly disastrous for the owners when they look back at the fallout from this lockout. Sure, if you look at traditional venues for fan speak, such as Yahoo! Sports’ comments sections, you’ll see less love for the players. But the people that the NBA cares about aren’t on Yahoo! and ESPN message boards, they are on twitter, tweeting at @StephenCurry30 to give them a good morning tweet or retweeting the #StandUnited tweets from @KingJames. The future of the ticket-paying NBA fan base is literally speaking to the greatest basketball players in the world, and as history has repeatedly shown, those that connect most with the people will win the people’s hearts and minds.
The owners are banking on a backlash against the players a la 1998-1999, where the working man couldn’t understand how millionaire basketball players could complain about their paychecks. But the world has changed dramatically in the last 13 years, in no small part due to the reckless actions of NBA owners and their kin outside of the game of basketball. The uber-rich are no longer the toast of the town. People are tired of the richest squashing on everyone else like bugs, and to display their distaste of such draconian tactics the world is putting its displeasure on display on none other than Twitter (#occupywallst anyone?).
I don’t want to lose a whole season. I hate the idea of not being able to watch the Lakers crush through the regular season and fight their way back to the top. But I hate even more the idea that the NBA owners are counting on me, a fan who regularly pays way more than I should to watch an NBA game, to turn against the players that are doing their best to connect with me, to get a deal done so they can get back on the court so they can pay their bills and play the game they love. I’m not going to do it. You can retweet me on that.