Are we watching something we love die right in front of us?
“I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show
it.” – Mitch Hedberg
Why, pray tell, am I starting this piece about the NBA
lockout with a joke from late comedian Mitch Hedberg?
Well, let me tell you a story.
The night was September 23, 2004. I took my girlfriend
(future wife) to Celebrity Theater to see two of my
favorite comedians, Stephen Lynch and Mitch Hedberg,
These two? On the same bill in the intimate atmosphere of
the Celebrity? I thought it was going to be a great
I was wrong.
Lynch’s set was great. He started off the night with his
unique brand of musical comedy and then brought Hedberg
out on stage. Hedberg, if you aren’t familiar with his
work, was a quirky observational comic whose career was
clouded by rumors of rampant drug use. Those rumors were
substantiated during his performance.
Hedberg stumbled, mumbled and giggled throughout his set,
often times laying down on the stage and forgetting his
jokes. He mused out loud about his drug use, the rumors
of how repeated heroin use had cost him one of his legs.
At one point of the cringe-worthy performance, Hedberg
downed pills thrown to him by audience members and made
his way into the first row of seats where he made out with
an elderly woman as what was left of the crowd groaned.
My wife and I stuck it out longer than most, but
ultimately left before the unfortunate display was over.
The next morning, on my radio show, I told my partner and
our audience that Mitch Hedberg would be dead in six
months if he didn’t get help.
Six months and one week later, Hedberg was found dead in a
hotel room in New Jersey from what medical examiners later
called “multiple drug toxicity”.
It was the end of a sad and tragic spiral, that was
“It can only get worse for both sides. If somebody is
pointing a gun at my head, I’m going to point one back at
him. Teams are going to lose money. The pain is mutual.” –
NBA Players Union executive director Billy Hunter
The NBA lockout of 2011 has reached day 117. It has wiped
out the entire preseason and two weeks of the regular
After talks with a federal mediator (you know, the guys
that are supposed to help two sides agree on something)
broke down and degenerated into claims of lies and name-
calling, more cancellations are on the way. In fact, the
league is expected to announce at least two more weeks of
I kind of get the feeling that I’m watching something I
enjoy harm itself–maybe worse. It’s very similar to how
I felt that night at Celebrity Theater (the biggest
difference being there’s not a human life at stake, of
Here’s what we know. Players have agreed to reduce their
cut of BRI (basketball-related income) to 52.5% from the
57% they got in the last collective bargaining agreement.
Owners want a 50-50 split. This is the biggest stumbling
block? Two-and-a-half percent? I realize 2.5% of a lot
of money is a substantial. But lest we forget that with
no basketball, there’s no pie to divvy up. I think both
sides may have forgotten this.
We also know that the owners want a system that inspires
competitive balance. Critics of the NBA have long been
pointing out that competitive balance doesn’t exist in the
league. They’ll cite that there’s only been nine
champions in the NBA since 1980. There’s been 20
different World Series winners in the same time frame, and
possibly 21 if the Rangers hold on to defeat the Cardinals
in this year’s Fall Classic.
The owners can talk about this until they’re blue in the
face, and a even if a potential CBA mandates that every
team spends and takes in the same amount of money, down to
the cent, it won’t help competitive balance in the NBA.
The only thing that will help competitive balance is the
creation of more superstar players. I’m serious. There
are 30 NBA franchises right now, and there are only enough
star players to provide about nine or ten teams with a
legitimate shot of winning a title (and that’s a generous
figure). In a sport where there’s five players on the
court at one time, the team with the better players will
win with regularity. Not every team has a superstar
player–there are just not enough of them to go around.
Yet the owners will continue to pay exorbitant salaries to
players who don’t fit that mold. Rashard Lewis makes $22
millon a year. Gilbert Arenas, Joe Johnson, Elton Brand,
Antawn Jamison, Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy, Chauncey Billups,
Al Jefferson, Baron Davis, Carlos Boozer and Richard
Hamilton are all among the top 30 highest-paid players in
the league. These players all have two things in common.
The first is none of them can be the focal point of a
championship team in the NBA. The second thing is all of
them have their paychecks signed by NBA owners who are
crying about losing money and wanting competitive balance.
Who’s to blame?
This isn’t all about the owners, though. The players are
also so removed from reality that they should be lining up
to take pay cuts–or a 2.5% reduction in their cut of the
BRI. Do you think any one NBA player will feel it if they
were to “cave” on that point? Okay, let me rephrase the
question. Do you think any one NBA player who has shown
even a shred of personal financial responsibility will
feel it? The answer is ‘no’.
I’m tired of hearing players being compared to pawns on a
chess board. In what business are employees not pawns?
I’m tired of hearing the owners whine about losing money
and competitive balance.
But both sides seem steadfast in their convictions. While
that’s commendable, none of it will lead to basketball
being played any sooner.
And the insistence on both sides just further turns off a
fan base that is in the muck and mire of the worst
recession this country has seen in nearly a century. The
players may hold strong in their beliefs, and ultimately
the 2011-12 season will be lost. Maybe it’s the owners
who don’t break and the season is the sacrifice. Both
sides would be making a huge assumption that whenever this
labor-related headbutting ceases, the fans will flock back
to consume your product. The NBA is not the NFL.
Much like 2004, I’m powerless to do anything to change
something ultimately preventable. I’m counting on others
to see the light and intervene.
Just seems like I’m watching something that made me happy