- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The NBA lockout is hurting a lot of “little people” right now, from ushers and vendors to bartenders and waiters to bellhops and drivers.

But if the labor dispute continues much longer, some tall people might be hurting, too.

It could happen next week when the “Homecoming Tour” tips off in Akron, Ohio. Or during the “Obama Classic” on Dec. 12. Or another of the myriad charity/exhibition/pickup games NBA players have staged since summer.

I’m concerned about some participants in the fundraiser for President Obama’s re-election campaign. Among the confirmed players are Magic Johnson, Doc Rivers, Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo.

Maybe they’ve forgotten, but the NBA used to stage an old-timers game during All-Star weekend. It’s no longer part of the festivities (replaced by the Rookie Challenge) and for good reason: Retired All-Stars David Thompson and Norm Nixon suffered major injuries during the 1992 Legends Classic, a ruptured patella tendon and a ruptured quadricep tendon, respectively.

Thompson at 37 and Nixon at 36 were the youngest players in the game.

The aforementioned geriatrics will be the oldest players in Obama’s fundraiser.

Kevin Durant also is scheduled to play in the event, which hardly is surprising. The two-time defending scoring champion passes up shots more often than he passes up opportunities to play. He hasn’t expressed much interest in going overseas, but he’s racked up the same frequent-flier miles by playing stateside.

No word yet if he’ll participate in the four-city Homecoming Tour being headlined by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. After starting in James’ hometown Dec. 1, the show moves to New Orleans, where Paul plays for the Hornets; then to Wade’s hometown of Chicago; and it ends at East Rutherford, N.J., across the river from Anthony’s New York Knicks team.

I’m wondering how long it’ll be before someone twists an ankle, breaks a bone or blows a knee. Not that the players expend tremendous amounts of energy and effort in these casual affairs. But all it takes is one freak play, one misstep, with no access to team doctors and trainers to help speed recovery.

The threat of injury goes hand-in-hand with another reason these games are risky propositions for the players.

Watching too much freestyle basketball dulls the fans’ senses and makes the games dull.

There’s a limit on our tolerance for get-out-the-way defense, streetball dribbling tricks, unstructured play and monotonous one-on-ones. We can only take it in small doses, specifically, once a year each February.

But if every game is like the All-Star Game, no thanks.

James, Wade, Anthony and Paul are great players, but we enjoy them most in the context of their teams, not with a bunch of other luminaries. Basketball compels because it involves various individuals merging their skills to create a group identity.

Successful teams require scorers and rebounders, passers and defenders, screeners and hustlers. Everybody has a role, whether it’s taking the most shots, rarely taking a shot or never taking a shot.

The Miami Heat has the Big 3, but Udonis Haslem is the team’s heart and soul. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry led the Dallas to the NBA title, but the Mavericks wouldn’t have prevailed without Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea.

Touring superstars aren’t too worried about getting hurt. The risk of injury is greater in real NBA action because there’s a real emotional investment. The next time someone takes a charge in these charity/exhibition/pickup games will be the first time. And forget about them diving over the scorer’s table or body-surfing across the floor for loose balls.

They do that in the NBA, though, because chasing a championship with a team means something. They can’t manufacture that level of intensity while barnstorming in college gyms. Their jerseys don’t carry the same weight and their makeshift teams have no historical significance.

Thank goodness talks have resumed between the players and owners. Reports indicate that a shortened season can begin Christmas Day if a handshake agreement is reached this weekend.

Considering how negotiations have seemed close previously before they collapsed, we shouldn’t get too excited. The fact that both sides let the situation get this far doesn’t instill much confidence in their deal-making ability.

But the prospect of games Dec. 25 — the traditional start date for the NBA’s national TV schedule — just might do the trick. It would be a perfect gift for fans who are disgusted with the billionaires and millionaires, and for “little people” who are hurting.

Here’s hoping the dispute ends shortly. Because someone else might be hurting after another charity/exhibition/pickup game.

I might poke an eye out.