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NBA sends disquieting message

It is only a matter of days now. If the NBA lockout isn't resolved by Thursday, the season supposedly will be history.

There are those who think Thursday holds no great significance, that in many ways the season already has been lost. But officially there still is time _ albeit only in the sense that there is, say, still time for the Lightning to make the NHL playoffs.

In other words, forget about it.

NBA commissioner David Stern himself said last week in a conference call that "the likelihood is that the season will be canceled on Jan. 7."

After months and months of talks and negotiations, we've basically gotten nowhere on this thing. Both sides remain stubborn. And, come Thursday, neither side will win, but everyone will lose.

Say what you want about the NBA, but if the season is called off Thursday, it won't be a sad day just for the NBA. It'll be a sad day for sports.

Sure, two or three years from now, all of this mess will be forgotten. But what about the meantime? What will the cancellation of a season say about the spirit of American sports now?

Whatever it is, you can bet it ain't good.

We all know things have gotten a bit screwy lately. But have things gotten so out of whack that, for the first time, we're about to witness an entire pro season thrown away?

Have people in the NBA become so greedy and so shortsighted that they're willing to walk away from hundreds of millions of dollars simply because they can't agree on exactly how filthy rich each should be?

There's still time, but not much hope.

"Over the past several years, people have complained about the same two things _ the greed of the owners and the high salaries of the players," said Dr. Jack Moore, an American Studies professor at South Florida. "But I doubt (cancellation of the NBA season) will have an awful effect on sports over the long term. Over the short term, fans will complain. They'll moan for a while. But fans have very short memories."

If you ask me (and no one has), the NBA players are more wrong than the owners _ at least on the issue of money, which is the main stumbling block.

The players are getting 57 percent of the league's basketball-related revenues. The owners want to make it closer to 53 percent, but the players don't want to budge after originally demanding 61 percent.

It's true, the players are the real show, not the owners. And, yes, their careers are fleeting, so they should try to make as much as they can while they can.

But, as agent Norman Blass said, "If you're earning $12-million and you have to give back $1-million, isn't that better than giving back the whole $12-million?"

Plus, when you get past their extravagant salaries, their international fame and their extraordinary talents, the players are employees _ just like a lot of us. They didn't risk millions in franchise start-up costs, nor do they stand to lose millions more if the team's market value drops.

The harsh reality for the players is the same as it is for us: If you think you're paid unfairly, work somewhere else. Or, better yet, start your own company.

Can any player, even one making the league minimum of $272,000, say in good conscience that he's getting a bum deal?

Hello?

Hey, it's good to see the players unified and standing firm for what they believe is right, especially in the face of mounting salary losses of more than $535-million. But they basically are playing a game of dare with a group of camels in the middle of the desert.

Billions will outlast millions any day.

When the players finally realize this, they're going to want a shoulder to cry on. After Thursday, there may be plenty of wet ones to go around.

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