NBA's rich and richer fight, while workers suffer

As Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead next week, the owners and players will be in self-imposed suspended animation. But there's nothing  like watching wealthy people fight about how to split the treasure.

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As Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead next week, the owners and players will be in self-imposed suspended animation. But there's nothing  like watching wealthy people fight about how to split the treasure.

Leave it to National Basketball Association officials and players to have their work-stoppage commence Tuesday, Nov. 1, aka Dias de los Muertos, the first of what could be many dead days for the NBA.

Whatever will we do? Well, we in and around Greater Seattle won’t have to do much of anything. Our “Zombie Sonics” (as ESPN columnist Bill Simmons dubbed them) long since have been consigned to undead status in Oklahoma City. The club dubbed the Thunder was to have been part of the Nov. 1 opening-date marquee game playing the Lakers in Los Angeles but that’s all, uh, dead now that the NBA season has been shortened by at least two weeks.

Players have been locked out since July 1. Management and labor can’t agree about how to split up $4 billion a year. Basketball fans, though they need only wait a couple of weeks for the college season to commence (the University of Washington Huskies men start play on Nov. 12, the women on Nov. 11), have been brawling and bawling online about how life won’t be worth living without an NBA season.

Other observers on the periphery of the NBA are variously amused, bemused, and confused about the “labor struggle.” Thousands, meanwhile, are genuinely abused as a result of the excessive spectacle of wealthy players and wealthier owners unable to find mutually agreeable ways to measure out the treasure they generate.

Here is some of the late news about the stoppage courtesy of the website Hoopsworld from Thursday (Oct. 27):

NBA owners and locked-out players held a marathon negotiating session Wednesday — and essentially Thursday morning — after meeting for more than 15 hours in New York City.

It was the first face-to-face talks between the sides since negotiations broke down last Thursday. NBA commissioner David Stern, who missed the last session with the flu, rejoined the discussions., citing a source involved in the talks, reported that any progress made involved ‘small’ moves.

There is still hope for an 82-game schedule, although neither side divulged how that is possible or even the progress made toward that goal.

On Friday, the two sides returned to the table amid talk that ranged from the optimistic to fear of losing the entire season.

The 30 NBA teams together employ a few thousand bodies in addition to players. Thousands of peripheral workers depend on revenue generated by this and other pro-sports leagues. Lost in the on-again-off-again bargaining talks is any regard for the meager-wage earners who, for example, collect parking-lot fees and serve nachos at concession stands on game dates. Many rely on game-related part-time work to augment day-job incomes.

In my experience most of the latter do so cheerfully, if wearily. An employee of my acquaintance the past few years at Safeco Field for home Mariners games is a school teacher who needs extra income to support herself and extended-family members. She and untold numbers of others across the country commute via public transportation (because they scarcely could afford to park near sports venues) at odd hours — or would were it not for this: the latest in a skein of other notable pro-sports work-stoppages.

As to the latter: If we know nothing else about stalled pro-sports seasons, it’s that the disputes always eventually end. The record for length of work stoppage belongs to the National Hockey League, closed down for 310 days before a settlement in 2005. A Major League Baseball players’ strike that resulted in the cancellation of the 2004 World Series ended after 232 days. Striking National Football League players were out for 57 days in 1982.

The record for the NBA? A lockout lasted from July 1, 1998 to Jan. 20, 1999, with no reports of any multi-millionaire players or owners having to cruise the food banks. If history repeats, then, NBA fans and unemployed workers need only find a way to live through another three months of dias de los muertos.


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