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NO NBA ACTION UNDER THE MISTLETOE? LET'S JUST KISS IT OFF

No NBA hoops on Christmas Day! What are we going to do?

I mean, what's Christmas without those wise men, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Kobe Bryant, bearing dunks?

What says Christmas better than a Luc Longley back pick?

Because of this lingering lockout, the league canceled its Christmas games, those traditional season-openers of the NBA on NBC season.

That means you won't be mixing Phoenix and the Lakers with your turkey and gravy. You won't be having Chicago and the Knicks for dessert.

You won't hear Stevie Ray Vaughan singing "The House Is A Rockin.' " The Hallelujah Chorus will have to do.

The question is, does anybody out there care?

Does anybody think of this lockout as anything more than what The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik calls "a leisure-time squabble"?

There is none of the anxiety of the 1994 baseball strike in this lockout. There is more apathy than anger.

NBA action?

Who needs it?

It's more fun waking up and wondering who Dennis Rodman married last night.

There's more drama listening to the nation's latest shock jock, Karl Malone, worrying us with his trade demands.

Rodman marries like Mickey Rooney and Malone drones like Howard Stern. This is the deterioration of the NBA.

NBA action?

You've got to be kidding me.

Give me those Nike commercials with Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson.

Give me Spike haggling Regina Miller at the St. Ignatius game. Give me Jackson in the driveway watching a game of H-O-R-S-E.

An entire NBA season is in jeopardy and it is being greeted by laughter, not tears.

The baseball strike hurt because there were no other games to watch. It hurt because it came more than four months into the season.

Teams were positioning themselves for September pennant races. The World Series was looming.

Because of the timing of the lockout, we don't know where some 200 free agents even will play this season. We don't know if Jordan will return, if Scottie Pippen will play for Chicago.

And as the lockout drags on, we lose interest in the questions.

Is there one person in Toronto who is aching for a Raptors game to watch? Do you think people in Dallas care if the Mavericks ever begin another season going nowhere? Who is dying to spend $50 for a Denver Nuggets game?

NBA action?

Who cares?

We have four or five college games on basic cable almost every night to feed our basketball jones.

We get Temple coming from behind to upset Michigan State one night. And we get Indiana's comeback win over Kansas State another.

I promise, you won't see one angry millionaire sitting on the bench with a towel draped over his head, sulking over playing time in any of those games.

There is parity in college basketball. There are Clippers, Kings, Grizzlies, Wizards, Nuggets, Raptors and Warriors in the NBA.

Be honest. On Tuesday night, the NBA would have given you Detroit at Sacramento. Is there a less relevant event on your sports calendar?

Image is everything in professional sports, and the NBA's image is sinking below the WWF, Kenneth Starr and Carmen Electra.

This is what the league's players and owners had better realize quickly: Life is going along fine without the NBA. Christmas will survive without Jordan and Ewing.

Season-ticket holders are asking for refunds for the entire season, getting turned down and growing even angrier.

I thought for sure this rich man's bicker would be over by Christmas.

I envisioned a holiday pregame show with Bob Costas, sitting by the fireplace, interviewing a tearful Commissioner David Stern, who apologizes to the fans.

In the background, Ahmad Rashad and Jordan are singing Christmas carols.

Stern tells Costas these opening games are the league's Christmas presents to the fans.

What he doesn't understand, however, is most of Americans would prefer a tie and a fruitcake.

Now we discover there will be no Christmas gifts from the commish. No Virginia, there will be no Jeff Van Gundy.

Does anybody out there care?

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