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Too Bad The NBA Doesn't Have A Lockout Every Season.

By Tom Danehy

MAY 10, 1999:  I THINK IT'S pretty much unanimous that this is the most exciting NBA regular season in the past quarter-century or so. Why didn't they think of this strike thing before? I mean, all those years of crowing about how the NBA was the only professional sports league never to lose a game due to work stoppage. Big deal.

Viva la huelga! Long live the strike!

That darn strike has revitalized the sport. Heck, when the regular season went into its final weekend, several teams were clawing for those last playoff spots, four games in the standings separated the third-place team from the seventh-place team, and three other teams were in a virtual dead heat for the best record in the league and the important home-court advantage which accompanies that achievement. This is cool.

Usually the NBA season starts around Halloween. Then, it's ignored by the average sports fan through the football bowl season and then the exciting final two months of college basketball. When we pick it back up in early April, they're still playing, but most of the important stuff has been decided while we were away.

Over an 82-game schedule, things tend to spread out, teams tend to find their proper level. That's all well and good; there is something to said for the best teams to establish themselves as such. But it also explains the allure of college basketball, where the best don't always win. There's nothing like a surprise ending.

In late April, they start the playoffs, which plod along until mid-June. We're grateful for this, because in June, the only alternative to basketball is...well, there is no alternative.

But this season didn't start until February. Teams had to play three or four games a week, 50 games in 90 days. Some teams had to play back-to-back-to-back games. Yeah, now we'll see what's up when there's no time to coast.

Sacramento made the playoffs. Toronto missed by this much. Seattle missed, period.

This season was special in so many ways. We got to hate the rich, spoiled leaders of the strike (I know it was officially a lockout by the owners, but it wouldn't have happened if the players had shown some good faith). We got to ridicule the multi-millionaires as they went on TV and said one stupid thing after another about $75,000 a year in car insurance payments or living from one $200,000 paycheck to the next.

Then we got to celebrate as the mid-level players won the settlement. The top-level players were forced to accept living on a mere $12 million or so per year so that the majority of players could get a pay raise and the owners could balance their books.

Finally, we got to have this really cool season where ESPN SportsCenter had highlights from seven or eight games every night, where teams played constantly, and every game really mattered.

(Major League Baseball tried to cram that slogan down fans' throats last year on ESPN, but nobody bought it. Technically, every game in a baseball season does count, but how often after 162 games do we really have a tight finish in baseball? Maybe one out of six divisions? Not good enough.)

(Imagine if the baseball season didn't start until mid-May and got over around Labor Day. The teams would play around 90 games. Boy, then the games would all count. They could add more playoffs and the World Series would be over in the first week of October, sparing us the spectacle of the world championship of baseball being decided in a blizzard. Just a thought.)

Some people have complained about the shoddy play and low scoring this year in the NBA, but it's all a myth. The fact is that scoring has been on the decline for more than a decade. It started when the "bad boys" style of thug basketball supplanted the "showtime" run-and-gun Lakers. The real problem, however, can be traced to today's kids not learning how to shoot a basketball. All they want to do is dunk or shoot the three. The 15-footer is too mundane, I guess. All it does is win you championships.

As for the shoddy play, the lack of real training camps hurt. But there has been plenty of lackluster play in every NBA regular season in memory. In other years, guys were just in the doldrums, bored with the routine and looking ahead to the playoffs.

This year, they played like crap because they were exhausted. That's a much better reason. We can identify with that, and even appreciate it.


THREE THINGS YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE IN THE PLAYOFFS:

  1. Kobe Bryant with the ball in his hands and the Lakers down one point to the Jazz with 10 seconds to play. In anticipation of such a dreaded occurrence, the Lakers have installed a retractable safety net around the court to protect fans from Bryant's...ahem, shot attempts. They need to call his sorry butt "Adobe," because his bricks are flat and virtually indestructible.

  2. Allan Iverson being interviewed. The dude has only the most casual relationship with the English language. Plus, he has nothing to say worth hearing, even if we could understand him.

  3. San Antonio vs. Indiana in the finals. NBC would have to invent a new micrometer to measure the minuscule size of the ratings for that mess.


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Got to be Karl Malone. If you say Tim Duncan, you're soft. If you say Alonzo Mourning, you're skipping your medication again. And if you say Allan Iverson, parole denied!

SHOULD MAKE THE FINALS: Utah and Miami. The Jazz should grind down the West with determination; the Heat should grind down the East with defense. The only thing that should keep the Jazz away from its first title is age. As Richard Pryor says, "That Old'll be f---in' with your legs."

C'mon, Stockton and Malone, win one, then go make a golf foursome with Elway and Gretzky. Don't play with that Jordan guy. He's got a gambling jones and no source of income.


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