Don't worry about NBA lockout ... yet

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Basketball fans should not freak out about this. Yet.

If needed, there will be plenty of time for freaking out later, as those who follow the vapourized NHL can attest.

A collective-bargaining session between NBA owners and players that had been scheduled for yesterday "failed to materialize," a league spokesman told The Associated Press. That obviously isn't a great sign, but earlier proclamations that this process would be free of roadblocks were naively optimistic.

Is there going to be an NBA lockout? Maybe. We might even lean slightly toward "probably" now.

But in practical terms, an NBA lockout would mean something quite different than the NHL lockout did, at least in the early stages.

Keep in mind that while NBA and NHL regular seasons basically run concurrently, the leagues are not on the same schedule with regard to labour talks. The NHL's collective-bargaining agreement ran out on Sept. 15, 2004, while the NBA deal expires this coming June 30.

In other words, the start of an NBA lockout wouldn't be a big deal in and of itself, since actual games aren't lost until the fall. Still, that's not to say time on its own will eliminate all disagreements.

One of the most contentious issues is the NBA's desire to create an age minimum for players -- presumably 20. The players association is against it.

And of course, as usually is the case in the United States, the spectre of race has entered into it. Fans of reigning NBA most-valuable-player Steve Nash need crane their necks all the way back to last week for a recent example of this.

Anyway, the position put forth by NBA commissioner David Stern has been misinterpreted in a widespread way. We don't even necessarily agree with Stern -- we get his point, although an age limit may not be the best answer -- but it's fascinating how some people haven't listened to a word he has said with regard to motive.

In numerous interviews through the past couple of years, Stern has said -- and we're paraphrasing here -- that he is uncomfortable being the leader of a league that, directly or indirectly, is encouraging teenagers to abandon school.

Stern has acknowledged the significant contributions of some of the stellar current players who entered the league directly from high school -- Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, LeBron James, etc. -- but for Stern it's not about that. Rather, it's about the countless youngsters who put all their eggs in the dreamy basket of the NBA, fall short and have nowhere to go, having turned their backs on all educational prospects.

ROCKET SCIENCE?

As Stern has said, statistically speaking, there is a far greater chance of a young man becoming a nuclear physicist than an NBA player.

But some individuals have opined the mere suggestion of an age limit has racial implications. The thinking is that because the majority of NBA players are black, an age limit will impact young blacks more than any other ethnic group, and therefore it isn't right.

But Stern is concerned about young blacks. It's just that presently he's more concerned about the ones who don't make the NBA than the ones who do.

Again, we really don't think an age limit is the way to proceed, since it would hold back the 18-year-olds who truly are ready. But we understand why the league is concerned about this. And please, it's not because Stern is anti-black.

The other big issues are more monetary than philosophical. Owners want to reduce the maximum length of contracts for players, as well as reducing the percentages used to calculate annual salary increases. If the league expects the players to agree to these changes without getting anything back, it could spell trouble.

The bottom line?

We still don't think games are going to be lost. A gut feeling, we suppose.

Just don't say both sides are "too smart" to avert a disaster. We've heard that one before.


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