I wish I could say I'll hold out against the greedy millionaires, the greedier billionaires and their schoolyard game-turned-runaway capitalist train. But I won't. If it were 2004 and me-first stars like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and young Dwyane Wade were dominating the league, I might be tempted to catch up on my correspondence for a couple of years. But the NBA has more talent (and more young talent) than I've seen in my lifetime, and I'm not going to miss the halcyon days just because I'm bitter about another consumer-screwing work stoppage. To put it in your terms, Patrick, I'd stay away if the ex/NBA looked like this , but not when it looks like this.
But even if most people are quick to return to the NBA, a prolonged lockout would give other leagues—cough, NHL, cough cough—a chance to climb the popularity ladder a little. When baseball canceled the World Series in '94, the NFL took advantage and assumed dominant status in the hierarchy of the four major sports—even when baseball had its Home Run Renaissance of 1998, it couldn't really challenge football for the top spot. I'm not saying the NHL is going to supplant the NBA in popularity—but it could pick up its fair share of temporarily disaffected basketball fans and turn them into hockey diehards. I mean, not me. But some people.
We should also briefly mention the other cohort that faces the great unknown of how a lost season will affect them: the players. Will aging veterans like Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki be able to come back in 2012 with the same intensity? Will second-year studs John Wall and Blake Griffin take a step back in their development without the structure of an 82-game season to keep them interested? Will Chris Bosh finally complete his transformation into a velociraptor and eat LeBron James and Dwyane Wade before they can play another regular-season game? Who can say. But a yearlong stoppage would unquestionably change the career course of some of the brightest stars the league has seen in years. It may not be for the better, but it would at least be fascinating to watch.