As the NBA owners and players sit in New York in an ego and greed driven standoff NBA fans sit at home powerlessly waiting to see who wins, knowing that whoever it is we’ve already lost.
We’ve lost games, we’ve lost respect, we’ve lost patience and, what should be alarming to the NBA, we’ve lost interest.
Willard Waller, a 20th century sociologist said, “In any relationship, the person who has the least interest has the greatest power.”
Sure the lockout features greedy millionaires fighting for dollars. To be fair to the players and owners the NBA economic system is clearly flawed and the players are just fighting for what they deem to be a fair deal. But this is about a relationship, not just between the players and owners but between a league and its fans. And all the fans want is basketball.
What’s become painfully transparent in all this is who has the power in this relationship. Where do all those millions of dollars they’re fighting for come from? The fans? Not directly. It comes from interest. Whether we shell out money for tickets and concessions or sit on our couches wearing team apparel and consuming beverages advertised at commercial breaks, interest fuels the league.
That interest, however, does not translate into power for the fans. Our interest in them, or rather their lack of interest in us, ultimately gives them the greater power.
As fans we care for teams and players on a level they will never care for us. We know the players names and when and where “our” team plays. We know exactly when we became a fan and why we stay one.
I once remarked while watching a game, “I hate that guy.” My friend turned to me and said, “Really? He doesn’t even know you’re alive.”
You see, as fans, we’re in a relationship where we’ll always come in last.
We buy jerseys or make signs to show our support. We check the scores and stats in the paper or follow them online. We sit in the stands like a love struck school girl and talk incessantly with friends and coworkers about “our” team when, at best, they are vaguely aware of our existence. We are their fan but to them we are one of thousands. While we are theirs they will never be ours.
Do the NBA owners and players care about their fans? Yes and no. Yes they care about the interest we generate in them and the league. That interest equals power and money. However, even if they wanted to, they can’t care for fans the way that fans care for them. This lockout has painfully illustrated that.
The Phoenix Suns are better than almost anyone at engaging their fans; their online presence and social media initiatives are second to none. The first day of the NBA lockout they were forced, along with every other team, to remove all images of players and were banned from using their names or referencing the lockout in any way.
Steve Nash famously tweeted, “NBA lockout day 1: Since player photos’ve been taken off team websites I’m having a garage sale of all my suns gear @canal and broadway. Cheap.”
Since then the Suns have posted pictures of former players and carefully worded poll questions about favorite past Suns team members. So the grownups can’t get along and of course it’s the kids that suffer. They continue to squabble over petty differences with little regard to its impact on us; all the while posting pictures of the good old days in the hopes we’ll still be around when they need us again.
The owners and players are banking on the fact that we will come back to them when they are ready. We have all the interest and they’ll have all the power. Like it or not that is the way this relationship will always work. The lockout didn’t cause that, it just shed new light on it.
When it’s all said and done and they’ve divided up the money and opened their doors once more and professional basketball returns they’ll no doubt try to reconcile with fans. The question we fans will have to ask ourselves, knowing now where we stand, is do we still want to be in this relationship?