I can't imagine a nation without its National Basketball Association. Except for a brief spell in the winter of '98 to '99, I've never known a sports scene without it. Not to get all Millennial on you, Hampton, but I actually don't remember back in the day when shorts were actually short and when Bird, Magic and Michael all shared one lawyer, because I've only seen it on grainy YouTube clips and read about it in books like "Breaks of the Game." A significant portion of the NBA's most committed fan base is in this same category. It's the only league that has ever mattered. So why would we care if there even was an alternative?
Still, the lockout should provide some other HD arena for us to fixate on during the next year. It will be fascinating to see where fans of the sport—and not necessarily the league—decide to turn. For a few weeks, at least, the Chinese Basketball Association seemed like it might make for a promising distraction. Then, last week, the league announced that it would only allow unrestricted free agents (meaning, essentially, players who wouldn't take off mid-season for the delayed start to the NBA season) to sign with its teams. Some have even speculated that Stern played a role in the CBA's decision. It wouldn't have been a good look for NBA sponsors if Kobe and Carmelo had taken all of the league's marketing power to China.
The only viable alternatives to the NBA in this country is men's—and to a lesser degree, women's—college basketball (meanwhile, somewhere in Tulsa, the WNBA season drags on). Leagues like the CBA, IBL, and USBL go bust because the NBA has such a committed fan base that knows that at the foundation of this dispute are a lot of rich men who want to stay rich. It's mind-boggling enough that the league and the players are (likely) going to forgo the 2011-12 season. We'll get distracted for a few months, and follow the players to whatever ragtag gym the Drew and Goodman Leagues take them, but I'd wager that most of us are frustratingly allied with the one we won't see play.
I guess there's always some '70s highlights to catch up on on YouTube.
Patrick, where will you get your basketball fix? Do you see any alternative I might be ignoring? I am, admittedly, rather one-sided.