But first, the league inches closer to a devastating lockout.
Players and owners powwowed Wednesday, and the most vague joint statement imaginable revealed that talks were cordial and constructive. Cheers to that; no one wants to see Roger Mason Jr. give Glen Taylor a black eye. (Or do they?) Progress is a positive, no matter how small the movement and no matter how long the process, right?
That's fine ... if you have no deadline, or if your goal can be reached at any time. Players and owners don't have a lot of time, though. Doomsday is about 10 months away. And that pesky 2010-11 NBA season is about to get in the way.
Wednesday's session is believed to be the final such meeting before the season begins October 26. Players and owners obviously can't meet during the regular season, with players strung about 30 cities.
The next bargaining session is during All-Star Weekend in late February. After that? Late June, after the NBA Finals end. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement ends June 30. You see a problem here?
When the sides really get together to hammer this deal out, they will have less than two weeks to do so. In the meantime, the NBA says smaller groups of players and owners -- workgroups, if you will -- will attempt to make headway on specific bargaining issues. And staff from the union and league may meet during the season.
But we all know the unique challenges of the current bargaining situation. The league claims teams are losing hundreds of millions of dollars, and that player salaries are to blame. Players claim owners are liars, and that the system works. Bargaining may be cordial and even constructive, but there is such a gap to make up it seems impossible than a couple more sessions is going to make it all come together.
Can anyone in the world see this being resolved by July 1, 2011? Remember 2005? The NBA almost locked out players then, too. But a last-second resolution was reached, with the union making some fairly major concessions (shorter maximum contracts, cap on max salaries). And this was 2005, when there seemed to be little in the way of dire straits. It is 2010. Attendance in many cities has been problematic, and a handful of owners lost their shirts in the financial implosion and subsequent economic recession. Things were good in 2005 and they barely got it done. Things are pretty flippin' terrible in 2010. What do you think is going to happen?
And come July 1, you'd better believe the histrionics of this lockout will explode. First, free agency gets postponed. Then the summer league is canceled. Anonymous players get quoted about David Stern's salary. (Oh wait, that's already happening.) Anonymous owners blame Drew Gooden and Darko Milicic. LeBron James gets spotted eating banana and diamond waffles. Mickey Arison changes the locks on his yacht. Billy Hunter gets called names.
Hunter, the union's leader, told reporters he'd know by the All-Star break whether a lockout is likely. Let me save y'all the wait: yes, a lockout is likely. No, these small workgroups are not going to be able to tackle the huge, incredible disparities in how the players and owners see the state of things.
That's the takeaway from Wednesday's session: There is little hope a lockout will be avoided. What an ugly cloud hanging over the season. (TZ)
Tarrying With the Negative
Let's talk about LeBron's Q Score a little more, shall we? Mea culpa: In yesterday's Works, I didn't give you the actual numbers, and I should have. As commenter Nedu Nnadi pointed out, there's enough there to make the picture even more complicated. They also tell us a little more about the Q Score, which isn't the most straightforward or logical measure -- and yet, in this case, this actually might prove helpful.
From Vincent Thomas' column:
Just so we're clear on what that means: Non-blacks have a lower high opinion, and a higher low opinion, of LeBron. That's not redundant; there's a difference between thinking "I think LeBron James is less awesome now" and "LeBron James is the devil." Love and hate are not simply opposite ends of a spectrum. On the other hand, African-Americans like LeBron less, but don't dislike him any more than they did before. In one case, you have a clear correlation, as if with less love comes more hate. What does it mean, though, when the two don't match up, as they do with Bron's Q Score among blacks?According to The Q Scores Co., for non-blacks, LeBron's positive Q rating went from 18 percent in January to 10 percent in September and, more telling, his negative Q rating went from 24 percent to 44. Nearly half of the non-blacks in this country don't like the dude. Meanwhile, LeBron's positive Q rating among blacks went from 52 percent in January to 39 -- a noticeable drop -- but his negative Q rating barely budged, going from 14 percent to 15. Among African-Americans, says The Q Scores Co. executive vice president Henry Schafer, the shift in opinion was mostly to neutral.
Here's how Neda interpreted that:
As the Q Score itself might say, I agree and disagree. An unwillingness to prematurely deify LeBron is a kind of realism, a healthy skepticism borne out of love and respect for the game. Exaggeration and melodrama are nice shortcuts, but they trivialize what's important in the first place. The other side of this realism -- again, think the complex, often indirect, interplay of love and hate -- would be a wariness about the way athletes are seen.I think the black community was not as vested in the image of LeBron as 'all that is right and good with basketball' and hence we were not as disappointed as maybe we should have been. This I think is more or less a case of ambivalence about what to make of LeBron the role model masquerading as a racial empathy.
The love part, that's about the game, not empathy for the men who play it. Sure, let's call that evidence of how important basketball is to African-Americans. But if blacks say fewer good things about James, why aren't they saying bad things instead? The only possible explanation is that the motivations behind positive and negative are different. The change in positives can be about LeBron James and his situation. That it doesn't cut both ways suggests a resistance to replacing positives. It's okay to criticize by omission, but explicit negatives aren't cool.
That's why I don't think that Neda's reading precludes racial empathy. A shift toward neutrality really does reflect a desire to avoid passing judgment, to make a statement through tact alone. It's possible to be frank, even critical, about the sport because it matters -- and yet at the same time, want to make a statement about the way we treat the men who play it. (BS)
The Benefits of Being Invisible
Did we ever come up with a catchy name for last season's Wizards locker room incident? Here's how smart David Stern is: The reason the commissioner came down so hard on Gilbert Arenas for Finger Gunz, so quickly, was that it had such a catchy name. I forgot, did it explode into meme-dom? Today, it would have.
In any case, in the frenzy that followed, all anyone cared about was Arenas. Not only was the rise and fall of Agent Zero insanely compelling and irrepressibly sad, Javaris Crittenton was about as fringe as recent first-rounders get. What the Wizards wanted to or could do with Gil was a source of suspense and dismay. Crittenton? No one cared about him, and many presumed his NBA career was over. And that was before a false report surfaced that Crittenton had chambered a bullet and whistled ominously.
The way professional sports works, you expect the stars to be shielded, and the little guy to take the fall, bear the brunt, or do whatever else the is necessary for the franchise to go on. Arenas is a tricky situation, since his injury history and concerns over his contract served to call his stardom into question. But he was still a dilemma. Javaris Crittenton was supposed to go away, because life is unfair and from a business standpoint, he was beyond expendable.
Well, things haven't quite turned out that way. Nothing's set in stone yet, but Crittenton has a good shot at making the guard-starved Bobcats roster, and could even crack the rotation if he can prove himself a worthy peer of D.J. Augustin and Shaun Livingston. Meanwhile, the Wizards are stuck with Arenas, hoping he won't distract John Wall, or distract everyone else from the most anticipated rookie since Kevin Durant. Supposedly he looks better than ever, but there's still no guarantee that Arenas will stay healthy. Oh, and he and Wall sort of both play point guard. Too bad dealing Arenas away is all but a forgotten proposition.
This isn't to say that Crittenton might be about to win one for the underdog, or that we shouldn't first and foremost remember that he's to blame for the position he's in. What's fascinating, though, is that being a star might actually be hurting Arenas in this case. He's a famous name who has a famous scandal to his credit. It's the same thing with Ron Artest and the Malice in the Palace. Sure, there are athletes so outsized that they can absorb anything -- Shaquille O'Neal comes to mind. Otherwise, though, you have to wonder if being an athlete of interest doesn't put one at a disadvantage. There's a mythology, or at least a reputation, being built there. What better accessory, or more decisive contour, than a public disaster?
Crittenton, on the other hand benefits from his relative anonymity. If he survives the short-term, then no one caring, and him practically not existing, helps. He's just a guy vying for a roster spot, albeit with a pretty sizable piece of baggage to his name. And yet it's just a technicality, not character issues, or indication that he's damaged goods. Those sound more like things one might say of Gilbert Arenas -- the one-time face of a franchise and one of the league's most beguiling performers. (BS)
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The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.