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NBA fans can see what they're missing

Liam Quinn

Liam Quinn

Written on Thursday, 21 July 2011 12:45

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The NBA has just released its 2011-12 schedule - and what a schedule it is.

The season opens with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks led by everyone's favourite German, Dirk Nowitzki, taking on the resurgent, Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls. The same night pits the Los Angeles Lakers against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in what could be the first step towards a seismic NBA shift. The Thunder will be looking to knock the Lakers from their perch as the perennial contender, with Kevin Durant gunning for Kobe Bryant's mantle as the NBA's most prolific scorer.

Throw in the Miami "Big 3" - or "Big 2" according to player-turned analyst, Shaquille O'Neal - taking on the relevant again New York Knicks, and the usual plethora of Christmas Day marquee match-ups, and the NBA has really produced a winner. Fans the world over will be salivating at the very thought of enjoying the very best that the league has to offer.

But then, the cold, dark reality sets in.

When will the teams actually play those games? Will those mouth-watering match-ups ever be contested?

As the NBA lurches deeper into their apocalyptic lockout landscape, the chance of these games taking place as scheduled, is as likely as Michael Jordan making another comeback for the Charlotte Bobcats.

Even the most optimistic of NBA fans will begrudgingly admit that a full 2011-12 season is shaping up to be a mirage. The best-case scenario would be that the league and players might stop their bickering in time for the season to start around Christmas.

If the league were to begin around December/January, the schedule would be drastically altered to create a furious dash to the playoffs, similar to the 50-game season in 2000.

So if, in all likelihood, the new season schedule isn't worth the paper it's written on, why would the NBA bother going to the trouble to produce it?

Simply, it's what the league has to do. And it's a PR masterstroke.

In the past fortnight, the NBA has lost monumental negotiating ground in lockout discussions, as players have begun to look at signing up for overseas leagues. The league previously held a monopoly over where players could ply their trade. The best players played in the NBA, simple as that.

Admittedly, NBA players moving overseas - primarily to Europe - is nothing new, but the calibre of players is what would make the league uneasy.

Deron Williams has already signed to play for Turkish side Beskitas during the lockout, and fellow superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Dwight Howard have all spoke publicly about the possibility of playing in Europe or Asia. Bryant, Williams, Durant and Howard are arguably four of the top 10 players in the league. And more importantly, they are some of the highest profile and most marketable assets the league has.

The players have shown that they are willing to move overseas, for significantly less money, just to play the game. Because they - like the fans - love the game. They don't do it for the money (well, maybe just a little bit), they do it because they love it.

With one of the key lockout battles being waged for fan-support, this is a massive win for the players.

That is precisely why the NBA had to release a bumper 2011-12 schedule.

Sure it sets down something of a deadline for players, signifying the games that will be lost, but it could potentially be a much bigger win for the league.

It gives the league its first non-lockout publicity since the end of the NBA Finals and creates a huge buzz and excitement amongst fans.

Frankly, it shows fans exactly what they'll be missing.

Fans can pore over the plethora of tantalising matchups outlined in the schedule but then come to realize that, in all reality, they will never take place. The league can then present the view that it is operating as normal, trying to plan for the season, and it's the players that are causing the lockout.

That swing in public-perception turns the players into the bad guys.

They're no longer the innocent party, the ones that just want to play the game, but instead they morph into a pack of greedy, petulant millionaires who are robbing us all of what we love.

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