Looking Like Congress? Despair and the NBA Lockout

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We’re living in a country—né, a world—facing distinct challenges. Confronted with the threat of significant economic decline, America has tough choices to make, namely: Where are we headed? And to get us there, who’s going to feel the pain?

In the face of such potentially seismic shifts in American society, both democrats and Republicans have failed repeatedly and spectacularly in rising to the occasion. Both are intransigent, refusing to bow to wills of popular opinion.

Sounds kind of like the NBA’s labor dispute, doesn’t it?

And just like those goons in Congress, I couldn’t be more dissatisfied with all sides of the NBA’s lockout mess. Like the threats of government shutdown, players and owners alike look prepared to deploy the nuclear option.

But the NBA’s clash is ever more dubious than that of Congress. The league is not coming to grips with mass unemployment, health care, social security and a lack of fundamental belief in the American Dream—they’re fighting about how to split billions. In today’s economic climate, such squabbles are a slap to the face of all NBA fans.

I understand there are layers of nuance in renewing the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The decisions made will shape the game for years to come. But in the big picture, owners and players alike appear unsympathetic, not unlike tax-mad Republicans: the rich must not be asked to sacrifice!

It makes me ill. Worse so when I’m reminded how the recently-announced cancellation of the pre-season will immanently harm workers wholly removed larger dispute. All the folks that staff the Rose Garden are already starting to lose paychecks. Canceling the entire season would mean the loss of hundreds of jobs in Portland alone, not to mention an overall hit of $3 million to the city’s coffers. Just ridiculous.

Now jump with me, quickly, to New York.

I was there last week and met an old friend for lunch. She works for a financial firm in midtown with a beautiful view of Central Park. It’s a hedge fund of sorts, but they also lend. A lot of their lending clients are NBA players, she told me me, who regularly took short-term cash advances at rates of 20%. Twenty-percent! Just dumping money down the drain.

And they’re worried about a pay cut.

Owners are just as pitiless. Claiming the league’s revenue model is broken and giving Rashard Lewis $110 million for six years like driving a car into a wall and blaming the warranty. It’s no one’s fault but their own.

(And suddenly Brandon Roy’s max deal comes to mind, offered with shaky knees and all.)

My disgust is compounded by the NFL’s getting their act together in time to salvage a respectable season. To be sure, football’s economic footing is statue-eque. Their problems were dividing a growing pie, not one that’s shrinking. Nonetheless, it makes the NBA’s stalemate appear all the more disheartening. Didn’t everyone read Moneyball?

With the whole situation simply festering, I can hardly bring myself to think about basketball. When I do, I just seem to slump, stewing with despair. It’s why updates have been so few and far between—there’s just no inspiration. They’ve sucked it out of me. I assume most of you Blazer fans feel the same way: that basketball isn’t on the radar like it’s supposed to be this time of year.

But going forward I want everyone to know: when the season resumes, so will PRS. We are beaten, but far from broke. All the coverage and zeal of years passed will as soon as the first whistle is blown and the jump ball is tossed.

But until that day, I’ll be thumbing my nose in protest. hoping for the league—and country—I love to rise above the muck.

The Lazarus Pit

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Self-explanatory

Remember the summer of 2007? The Blazers had as clear a path to joining the NBA’s elite as a young team could hope for; Zach Randolph was finally gone, Brandon Roy was a franchise player, LaMarcus Aldridge was a future All Star, and Greg Oden was the next dominant big man. The franchise seemed doubly blessed with leadership that made good decisions and luck.

Portland drafting Oden catapulted Blazers fans from cautious optimism into a full on Rip City revival. Fans of the Blazers deserve much of the credit they receive nationally for their dedication, but few mention that this team was dead last in attendance in 2006. Even Blazers fans need a decent product to support, and suddenly they had a phenomenal one. Conversations weren’t so much about if that team could win a title as they were how many titles would ultimately be amassed. The buzz was back.

I didn’t experience that elevated spirit directly. I viewed it in a detached way, the way scientists say they do their work. The summer of 2007 coincidentally was the worst time of my life. My family experienced an unexpected loss, the sort that snatches you from normal for a while and makes it hard to think of sports as important. I couldn’t manage to be excited about a basketball team, but a small part of me was pleased to witness the spike in enthusiasm. For lack of the talent needed to clearly describe my feelings at that time I’ll put it like this: I couldn’t enjoy it, but I looked forward to being able to enjoy it someday.

Now the summer of 2011 is coming to a close. The summer of 2007 wasn’t so long ago, although things seem so different now that I’m not convinced I didn’t Slider into a parallel dimension somewhere along the way. I’m back to being wrapped up in frivolous things. It’s questionable whether Roy and Oden will ever be able to play an entire season, let alone perform at a high level. Aldridge, once destined to be the tertiary star to Roy and Oden supernovae, is shouldering far too much franchise weight. Team leadership seems incapable of making even okay decisions, let alone great ones. (Glad to hear the GM search is going well. Hope the one in twelve months runs just as smoothly.) What felt like a lucky franchise now seems like a cursed one. The only thing from the summer of 2007 that remains is a reinvigorated fan base, which has so far kept enough of a grip to keep from falling back to the apathy of the 2005-06 season.

It’s easy to see how quickly things can change and the opaqueness of the future. Downer examples like the ones above are usually the go-to type used to illustrate these facts of life. As illustrations they are incomplete. Just as things can go from great to crap in a flash, they can leap from crap to great. A surprisingly good trade or three, a player already on the roster rising to a new level (Hi Nico), Roy and Oden discovering the Lazarus Pit, these are just a few possibilities that could put the Blazers back on track to join the NBA elite. It’s easy to look back at the summer of 2007 and point out how foolish we were for believing in a sure thing. It takes a bit more thought to optimistically apply those lessons to the present. This franchise does not have a doomed fate. There is an unlimited and unknowable amount of future events available to help the Blazers find their way. Embrace that.