- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

There’s a disconnect when David Stern starts talking about the state of the NBA.

On one hand, apparently, things have never been better.

“We’ve had a great season,” the NBA commissioner said Tuesday night before Miami knocked off Dallas in Game 1 of the NBA finals. “I would say the most important thing for us is that the play of our players has captured the imagination of our fans. If you look at print, blogs, TV, social media, there’s an incredible amount of buzz around our game.”

Hmmm, so why are the owners about to shut things down?

Stern turned to his deputy commissioner, Adam Silver, sitting to his right.

“Yeah, Adam, how come?” Stern asked, sounding as befuddled by this whole situation as the rest of us.

After an uncomfortable pause, Silver began rattling off a numbing array of numbers.

“Costs have risen much faster than revenues over the course of this deal,” Silver said. “The last year of the prior deal our BRI, our gross revenues essentially, were rising 10 percent a year. Two years ago, revenue increased 3 percent. Last year, 1 percent. This year, probably somewhere between 3 and 4 percent.”

My head was hurting at this point, but Silver went on.

“At the same time, non-player costs are growing at a much higher percentage, and the built-in increases of our contracts are much higher than inflation and the growth in our business. For example, the three key players on the Heat all have 10 1/2-percent per year increases built into their deals for next year, at a point when revenues in our business are growing somewhere around 3 percent. It’s a broken system.”

Really? I’m confused, but that’s the power of the BRI.

It’s also why, in all likelihood, July 1 could be a bleak date for the NBA.

That’s when the players could be locked out, and there’s a very good chance _ judging by all the harsh words and pessimism on both sides _ that an entire season might be in jeopardy. It’s that serious, but most of us only have enough of an attention span to focus on a single labor dispute.

While we’ve been fretting over the NFL lockout, the NBA labor issues have gone largely unnoticed.

Despite all the posturing by the helmet-and-shoulder-pad crowd, we have a feeling they won’t fumble away a sport that makes so much money.

Surely, when all the posturing is done and the court cases sorted out, they’ll come to a detente that ensures we’ll all have some football to watch when Hank Williams Jr. caterwauls, “Are you ready for some football?”

We’re not nearly as optimistic about the NBA’s off-the-court dispute.

All we wanna do is root against the haughty Miami Heat, while not forgetting to bow down in awe of LeBron James. We wanna watch Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant grow up, while making sure to give props to Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant for fending off the young guns. We wanna see if Carmelo Anthony can take New York back to the top, if the Memphis Grizzlies can really develop into one of the league’s best teams, if the Atlanta Hawks can ever get past the second round of the playoffs.

Instead, we’re talking about the almighty BRI.

Stern and the owners claim to be losing hundreds of millions of dollars, even while attendance is up, television ratings are booming and merchandise sales are off the charts. The guys in suits want a larger chunk of the revenue and a hard salary cap, two proposals the guys in uniforms are likely to resist at all costs.

“It’s going to be a challenge to the NBA owners and the union to reach the right deal so that this success that we’re having can continue,” Stern said.

He keeps calling the NBA a success. Yet, in the very next breath, he’ll rail against an economic system that supposedly has the owners on the verge of financial ruin.

Which is it, commish?

“This is very complex,” Stern said, sounding very much like the lawyer he is. “It’s going to involve a lot of working together with the union, with the full confidence of both the players and the owners that if there’s a will, we’ll be able to work all those issues out.”

All we know is the commissioner’s pre-finals news conference was tough to watch. Instead of reveling in the LeBron-vs.-Dirk showdown, all but four of the more than 20 questions addressed the standoff over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Ugh.

Look guys, we don’t care what it takes, get it worked out. Impose a hard salary cap, but maybe allow one exception for each team. Give the owners a bit more of the revenue, but leave the majority of it in the players’ hands because they’re the ones we come to see.

Whatever it takes to get some signatures on the dotted line.

“What we hear from our fans is we want to see NBA basketball,” Silver said. “Really, the same types of things you’re all asking us today, which is basketball has never been better, and it would be a shame if there was a stop in play of any kind.”

A shame indeed.

___

AP National Writer Paul Newberry can be reached at pnewberry(at)ap.org or https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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