- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2011

The summer-league showdowns are cute, but they’re getting old fast. Nothing against Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony - who squared off this week in an all-star gathering that also featured LeBron James - and the other NBA ballers providing Internet highlights in the lockout’s wake, but it’s time for some plays from Derek Fisher and the negotiating team.

Fisher, president of the players’ union, tossed us a ray of hope Wednesday after a six-hour labor meeting in New York, just the second bargaining session since the lockout began July 1. Prospects for a full season being what they are, any glimmer of optimism will do and here it is: Fisher didn’t emerge trashing the owners, and NBA commissioner David Stern didn’t come out castigating the players.

That’s progress. Minuscule perhaps, but progress nonetheless.

“Everyone loses if we don’t reach an agreement,” Fisher told reporters. “That’s something that I think has always been understood.”

NFL owners and players engaged in a game of labor chicken that ultimately cost us just the Hall of Fame game. But the possibility that they would crash-and-burn a portion of the regular season scared the wit out of us.

Many observers fear there’s a greater chance that the NBA will implode. Few actually believed the NFL would reach that point, figuring the league and players eventually would find a satisfactory formula to split $9 billion.

But there are two reasons to believe the NBA won’t be as successful in averting a season meltdown. One, the NBA claims it lost $300 million last season. And, two, the NBA likes what it sees in the NHL, led by Stern’s former deputy, Gary Bettman.

Bettman’s league canceled the 2004-05 season when it couldn’t reach an agreement with the players, who were crushed when a new deal was signed. Teams got the cost certainty they sought, while players got terms that were worse than previous offers. NBA teams are fully aware (and jealous) of the victory by NHL teams, co-tenants in many cases.

Wiping out a whole season was painful for the NHL, and some fans still haven’t returned. But the league’s revenues and salary cap have grown ever since, and TV ratings are on the rise, too.

Besides, the NBA has some built-in advantages over the NHL in the ability to rebound from a canceled season. Basketball is a more popular sport, with better exposure and broadcast partners. It also benefits from the popularity of NCAA hoops, particularly March Madness, which provides a high-profile showcase for the next wave of superstars.

And taking a year off would only heighten - not dampen - the interest in sports’ No. 1 story line the past 12 months: LeBron, D-Wade and the Miami “Heatles.”

Fans would still flock to watch Miami on the road and on TV. The Boston Celtics would be too old to stop the Heat, but Derrick Rose and Chicago would put up another challenge. Out west, Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder would return as league darlings, while an aging Kobe Bryant tries to squeeze out one more championship run.

Meanwhile, there would be two rookie classes to feast on, including Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams and Jimmer Fredette from last June. Sorting out rosters for the NBA All-Star Rookie Challenge would be a mess, but at least basketball would be back.

I hope it doesn’t come to that, blowing off an entire season, but it’s a legitimate concern. The owners might be crazy enough to do it, emboldened by the NHL’s example. And players might not realize that any offer they accept afterward is likely to be worse, not better.

The two sides reportedly are far apart and the clock is ticking. Training camps are scheduled to open Oct. 3, with exhibition games beginning the following week. If the negotiating gap closed any during Wednesday’s meeting, no one said so.

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