David Falk told the Washington Post in a recent telephone interview that “There will be damage to both sides, severe damage to both sides if we don’t have a deal. You don’t know if the fans are going to come back. …I think it’s going to be severe repercussions with the fans, particularly because of the economic climate.“
That, my friend, is called agent-speak, and pure hype.
First of all, history doesn’t support this assertion, which appears to be truth steeped in wisdom to the untrained eye. Perhaps the biggest blow to fan confidence in the integrity of the game in a major American sport was dealt by the fixing scandal that submarined the 1919 White Sox, handed the World Series title to the Cincinnati Reds, launched a federal probe, and resulted in the lifetime ban of 8 White Sox players from major league baseball. The fans never left.
Then there were the 1951 betting scandals in major college basketball that saw the record setting NIT and NCAA champion CCNY team banned from playing in Madison Square Garden and subsequently dropping out of Division I athletics all together (they remain in Division III to this day), and 33 players (several big-named) from 7 major schools around the country barred from the sport for life. The fans never left.
And do I need to waste our time on professional wrestling? And look, they still have plenty of fans.
So, labor disputes are different than scandals you say? Okay, let’s look at the most recent lockout. How long did it take you to tune in a game once the 50 game season finally began? And I don’t remember there being any shortage of fans or interest in the NY-San Antonio NBA Finals that year.
Fans don’t watch basketball because they believe the players and owners are virtuous people. They watch because they enjoy the pace of the game, the eccentricity of some of the players, the artistic talent on display that inspires them to pursue their own greatness in whatever arena they happen to incubate talent. They spend the major bucks to go to the games to impress dates, or get dates, or be seen, or transact business, or feel the buzz, the electricity in the fourth quarter of a close game that swallows up the mundane ritual of their own lives.
Until someone comes up with a better product to satisfy those needs, NBA fans ain’t goin’ nowhere.