From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 23, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 23, 1998

Monday was the first day for regular season basketball games in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

And while local gyms are being filled with the squeal of sneakers and the bouncing of basketballs, those in the NBA still remain ghostly quiet.

Right now, we should know if Michael Jordan has returned to the sport for another year or has decided to devote more time to his golf game. Weshould know where free agents like Scottie Pippen ended up and gotten a glimpse of rookies like Antawn Jamison and Mike Bibby. We should knowwhat teams are looking like they will challenge the Bulls’ dominance in the league.

But as former Saints’ coach Jim Mora once said, we do not know and we may never know, at least for quite a while. The NBA lockout is in itsfourth month and there are no indications that it will end anytime soon.

Professional men’s basketball, once one of the most popular sports in the country and one with a world-wide following, is watching its fan base dwindling. A sport that was battling other problems, especially an imageof being played by mostly over-paid crybabies, suddenly has a much bigger one – that of fan apathy. As Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse thanbeing talked about is not being talked about.

It should be remembered that when baseball had its disastrous work stoppage in 1994, the game was really being talked about. Baseball washaving one of its best seasons in recent history, with Ken Griffey Jr. andMatt Williams challenging the season home run record and Tony Gwynn chasing .400, when the game came to a screeching halt. It would take Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive game streak in 1995 andanother memorable season this year when Roger Maris’ home run record was surpassed by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, to bring the sport back into the national conscience.

Baseball was the sport in trouble in 1994 while the NBA flourished. Nowthe tables are turned. The first month of the NBA season is gone, wipedout for the first time in the game’s history. Soon other games will follow.Is the canceling of a season at the beginning any less painful than canceling it at the end? Basketball is about to find out.

The sport is in limbo off the court as well as on. Free agents and rookiescannot be signed, trades cannot be made and training camps cannot be held.

Players are working out on their own, not knowing when their next paycheck will come.

While the millionaire superstars and millionaire owners fight over how to split a billion-dollar pie, it is the journeyman ballplayers who are suffering. Also suffering are the stadium workers, team personnel andbusinesses around the arenas who depend on the sport for their livelihood.

The NBA will suffer too. If and when the game resumes, there will beprecious little time for the teams to transact all their business and prepare for the season. Training camps will be curtailed, giving rookiesand the non-superstars fighting for jobs less time to prove themselves.

The rookies will also miss valuable time in making the transition to the next level. Do not expect the level of play to be at its best when thelockout ends and perhaps long afterwards.

The NBA is in trouble. Will there be a Cal Ripken Jr., a Mark McGwire or aSammy Sosa to rescue the league? Will the players imitate many of their baseball brethren who this season thanked the fans for taking them back? As of right now, we do not know. It is up to the players and owners todecide if and when we will.

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