Two Lockout Questions

Dave,

What's up with Paul Allen's negotiation-busting speech?  A lockout is bad enough without your own owner being the traitor!

Hold on there.  I wouldn't jump quite so fast.  I have little sympathy for cries of "We lost money!" when the most appropriate retort is, "Well, you spent it!" (cough, Whitsitt Era, cough) Still, there's more than one angle on this situation even if you're only looking through a Trail Blazer fan's eyes.

Halting negotiations is a short-term loss for the Blazer faithful, no doubt.  But there might be a longer-term principle working here.  Paul Allen has owned this team since 1988.  That's over two decades and a couple entire generations of Portland fans used to having one of the richest owners in pro sports open his pocketbook at the drop of a hat.  It's been great, and frankly I think Allen should keep doing it if he can afford it.  Things are more exciting that way.  I have little or no interest in saving him a few millions of dollars personally.  I'd rather have the team be as dynamic and talented as possible.

While I'm not worried a whit about Allen, I am worried about whoever comes next.  Whether Allen's family takes over the team someday or a new investor comes in they're not going to be interested in losing money...not even a little.  At a minimum running in the red would mean cuts and a change in operating style.  More seriously, any new owner would lack history with, and allegiance to, the area.  When things go south owners tend to blame the community, the ticket-buyers.  The grass looks greener in, say, Kansas City or L.A.  If the Blazers aren't operating in the black the Blazers will be under the constant shadow of a potential move.  That's a disaster nobody wants to contemplate.

I'm not on the owners' side in this argument but I am on the side of a team like Portland remaining financially viable in the future no matter how deep the owner's wallet and how willing he or she is to spend.  For the franchise to be safe an investment-minded miser would need to have a reasonable chance of turning a profit or at least breaking even while remaining competitive.  If Paul Allen genuinely thinks that can't happen under certain circumstances then he's actually working for the community in avoiding those circumstances.

Naturally I have no way of verifying that this is the case, nor do I believe it would be easy to determine.  But I'm not ready to crucify him for objecting to any deal that might put the team's tenure in Portland at risk.  I'm selfish that way.  But with everybody else in the NBA fighting for their self-interest, I think that's OK.

Dave,

What is up with the players and owners and everybody in the freakin' NBA?  Don't they realize that the whole [some words deleted here] country is in a recession and not getting out?  They're treating this like it was 1997, not 2011.

As a whole, no sir.  They do not.  I realize that's an over-generalization and that I'm not giving enough credit to some individuals.  I realize that some of the more savvy public speakers will give lip service to the economy and the state of the common fan.  But everything in this league is geared towards elitism.  The owners are the top 1% financially.  The players are the top 1% talent-wise.  David Stern is David Stern.  They walk in different circles than the rest of us.

Even though we desperately want to feel a connection with our sports heroes at the end of the day these are entertainers.  They have an entertainer's job, an entertainer's lifestyle, and many of them have an entertainer's mentality.  Let's say, purely hypothetically, you liked a Paris Hilton movie.  (No...not that one!  A legit studio release.)  How close would you feel to her?  How connected do you think she'd be to you?  How in tune would she be with your life and reality, economic or otherwise?  Do you think that any kind of recession would stop her from buying handbags and shoes worth more than your house?  No downturn would alter her demands and thus her need for income...to which she'd feel perfectly entitled by virtue of her special and heralded position.  If somebody pointed out that people who couldn't afford a loaf of bread would have trouble buying tickets to her films she'd probably burst out with a completely candid, "Well, let them eat cake!"

Modern sports figures--owners, players, whomever--are far closer to Paris Hilton than to any "aw shucks" figure we envision from sports-hero literature.  I believe they understand intellectually what's going on.  Many of them are probably helping out family and friends directly affected by the recession.  But a deep, empathetic connection...the kind of connection that would cause one to reason, "Everybody else is making less money, maybe it's OK for me to as well"?  I suspect that's missing in most of the people we're talking about.

And let's face it, 99% of the time we love them because they're not us.  They jump higher, run faster, make bigger and better business decisions, drive fancier cars and live in fancier homes.  It'd be a shock to see them abandon that mindset to stand among the common man now when they've been rewarded and admired for it in every other situation.  In their view the NBA wouldn't be the NBA if they weren't above the rest of us.  Maybe that's so.  It just sucks that they don't have that other perspective embedded strongly enough in this, the 1% critical time when they need it.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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