Everyone assumes that the worst case scenario for the lockout is that a season is lost, then the players' cave, and back to business as usual, with the players a bit poorer than before.
Far from it.
While I don't think the following basketball-doomsday scenario will happen, it could.
In a dimly lit conference room somewhere in New York, NBA commish David Stern and NBA players' union president Billy Hunter are secretly summoned to a meeting. A meeting called by a handful of owners--James Dolan, Jerry Buss, Mickey Arison, Robert Sarver, Wycliffe Grousbeck, Jerry Reinsdorf, and Mikhail Prokhorov via teleconference--and a handful of high-profile agents and players. LeBron James is there, along with Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, Arn Tellum, Rob Pelinka, and Leon Rose. It's early 2012. The lockout has gone on without any concessions from either side. Commissioner Stern has, on several occasions, threatened to cancel the season, and Hunter has maintained a position of league solidarity. Several high-profile players have signed with European and Chinese teams, though many players have not.
"Gentlemen", Arn Tellum states as he takes the podium. "It is time that we save, and remake, professional basketball in the United States. Which means that it is time that we destroy the NBA as it exists today, and remake it as it ought to be".
Stern fidgets uncomfortably in his chair.
"The NBA, and its union both, are acting like a bunch of [expletive] commies. Both want to sacrifice the strong for the weak."
Billy Hunter turns pale.
"The NBA teams, especially those namby-pamby small market teams in who-cares-burgs like Milwaukee and Sacramento, want revenue sharing this and salary cap that, so that moronic trust fund babies like the Maloofs can afford to bring an NBA championship--the most coveted prize in our sport--to Sac-ra-MEN-to. [Expletive] that. Nobody cares about Sac-ra-MEN-to but people who live in Sac-ra-MEN-to. Its the big-name cities that draw the fans worldwide. New York. Los Angeles. Chicago. Miami. Phoenix. Why should we care about branch-office towns like Portland or Indianapolis or Salt Lake City?"
"Or Cleveland?" Lebron pipes up from the back.
"Ex-ACT-ly!" Tellum continues. "Fans want to see winners. They want global brands. They didn't want places like Syracuse or Fort Wayne, and they don't care about places like Oklahoma City or Charlotte."
David Stern, having heard enough, gets up and walks indignantly to the door. "Sit the [expletive] down, Stern!" yells Tellum. Stern keeps going. Jerry Reinsdorf stands up, throws his notebook onto the hardwood table, and yells, "SIT DOWN, STERN! If you walk out that door, you are GONE!".
David Stern meekly sits down, it having been decades since hearing an ultimatum in his professional career.
Tellum goes on. "And as for the players--95 percent of the players in the Association are [expletive]. They're extras. Bit players. Tell me, Jerry. In Hollyood, which actors make millions?"
"The stars", replies Buss.
"Correct. And why do the stars make millions?"
"Because they're who moviegoers are paying to see".
"Pre-CISE-ly. And how much do bit players and extras make in Hollywood?"
"Union scale. Paid by the hour. And if they [expletive] around on the set or talk back to the directory, they all know they're done. They all think they're so professional and organized with their union cards and their guild. But they get paid [expletive] because they are [expletive]."
"But in the NBA, what happens? You've got guys like LeBron here, making millions of dollars, and underpaid. You've got guys like Derrick Rose--who [expletive] IS the Chicago Bulls--making rookie scale because a bunch of journeyman vets sold his [expletive] out. And you've got stiffs like Frye and Türkoğlu and (glances at Dwight Howard) Gilbert Arenas making the same money as they big-name players. But who buys tickets to see Channing would-you-like-Fryes-with-that missing 3-pointers? Nobody".
"The problem, gentlemen, is that we--and I mean the big market teams and the top-drawer stars--are being sold out. WE are basketball, my friends. This is OUR game. We're the Globetrotters, and the rest of the league are the Washington Generals. But we let them beat us. We [expletive] let those [expletive] BEAT us."
"[Expletive] them. [Expletive] them all".
Tellum sits down, and Jerry Reinsdorf gets up to speak.
"So this is what is going to happen, gentlemen--or this is what will happen assuming everyone plays ball. The NBA will split into three divisions of ten teams each: The A-league, the B-league, and the C-League. The D-League will remain pretty much as it is. The A-league will consist of the major media markets, five from each conference. Los Angeles. The Bay Area. Phoenix. Dallas. Houston. New York--both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Boston. Chicago. And, Miami. The global brands. The places that people in China or France have actually HEARD of. The cities that matter."
"The B-League? The Clippers. Portland. Denver. San Antonio--why the [expletive] does a place where they make picante sauce have four NBA titles? Minnesota. Atlanta. Toronto. Detroit. Washington. Philly."
David Stern raises his hand. "But there's a lot... of tradition in Detroit. And in Philly".
"Yeah, and a lot of burned out buildings, too. Detroit is yesterday, Stern, and you know it. You ALL know it. At any rate, the C-league is the rest of the NBA. Sac-ra-MEN-to. Utah. Memphis. New Orleans. And Oklahoma City--I don't care if Clay Bennett and you were twin brothers, David; it's [expletive] ridiculous that a star like Durant is playing in a third-rate Motel Six backwater like Oklahoma [expletive] City. Oklahoma's a Rogers and Hammerstein show. It ain't a major-league city. From the east--Orlando. Charlotte. Milwaukee. Indiana. And..."
Lebron interrupts. "...and Cleveland?"
"Correct!" LeBron sits back, with a big smile on his face, and fist-bumps Dwight Howard.
"Each A-League team will have a B-League and a C-League team assigned to it, who will be its farm system. There will be a reassignment draft. All players currently playing for B and C-league teams will be put into a pool, and drafted by A-League teams. From there, the A-league teams will reassign players to their B- and C-League affiliates."
Stern raises his hand again. "You think the other owners will go along with this? You think that Paul Allen or Clay or Peter Holt or Dan Gilbert--men who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars--are going to let you get away with that?"
"Paul Allen? You mean the accidental gazillionaire? The guy who's trying to sue the whole [expletive] Internet? The guy who changes GMs more often than he changes his socks?" The other owners present start laughing. "What's he gonna do? You see, what will happen if the other owners don't play ball--if the other owners don't cooperate, is that we simply quit the NBA. We quit. We form a new league--say, the World Basketball Association, and we just wait. No more draft in our league--we're all first class cities, so its a free market for rookies. Anyone with a pulse will come play for us; and the NBA will get the scraps. And as soon as guy's NBA contracts expire, we make them offers they can't refuse. Pretty soon, the NBA will be like the USFL. Ruined. Bankrupt. Out of business. Nobody is going to pay big money to see teams headlined by James Jones or Brian Cardinal."
"If the other owners DO play ball, we'll make it worth their while. We'll pay 'em off. We'll make sure they stay in business. We'll take care of contracts like Hedo and Channing Frye. We'll compensate them for their loss in value. There's a good business in minor-league baseball, there's a good business in lower-division soccer. And there will be a good business in minor league basketball. And they won't be having to pay millions of dollars to Brian Cardinal to miss dunks."
Stern replies: "What about the networks?"
"They're on board. Actually, this was their idea--they're losing all sorts of money without pro basketball. But do you think that ESPN really wants to send crews to Memphis? There's only so many times you can visit Graceland and eat barbecue. Get real!"
Hunter stammers. "The players will never stand for this. The union is strong, and united."
Tellum replies, "Go put a sock in it, Hunter. Your union only exists because people play hundreds and thousands of dollars to watch guys like LeBron play, and because guys like LeBron have been casting their lots in with you. But those days are over. You [expletive] the stars last time around, and you want to do it again, all so Mike Bibby and other old geezers can have a nice job getting paid millions to play bad basketball. But no more. Your union will still exist, I'm sure. But I refer you to my earlier comments about Hollywood. Go talk to your buddies in the Screen Actors' Guild and AFTRA, and see how THEY operate. Because that's where the NBAPA is heading."
Reinsdorf turns to Stern. "David. You're a bright fellow. You've done a good job running the NBA, and we'd like to keep you around. But if you're interested--then your first order of business is to make arrangements with the other owners. Are you in, or not?"
Stern thinks to himself for a second, then bravely says. "I'm in."
"Excellent!" A waiter starts serving champagne to all present at the meeting.
"I propose a toast, gentlemen, to the future of professional basketball!"