If the NBA lockout were a city, it would have to be Seattle. If you're looking for sunshine, there are enough days to tease that hope into the open each time you shut off the alarm clock, but the curtains hang over the window like a death sentence. You know what's behind them.
The owners have put enough chum in the water to disguise their true platform from the casual observer for a little while yet, but that won't last much longer. And why not? (Real) football is king in the USA, so the lockout has been lost in the penumbra of the NFL juggernaut. Philosophers argue that all things run in cycles, and certainly no one will discount that when it comes to professional sports. The stage of the NFL cycle I am referring to is the playoff race.
As November/December rolls on, there are two things to keep in mind; the NFL playoff picture will crystallize and the NBA season will not be taking shape. I'm betting this is the dynamic that finally gets the casual fan to care. The beginning of the NBA season doesn't need much attention because 'hey, they play a lot of games.' Once the NFL playoff picture has shaped up, conversation turns inevitably to Super Bowl chances and by association, the end of the season.
While passionate NBA fans monitor Twitter feeds like refugees watching for U.N. relief convoys, the less involved are barely aware of the lockout. They know it's happening...but it doesn't really concern them. Why is this dynamic worth mentioning? It may scarcely be credible, but I believe the opinion of the public at-large has yet to take shape. It's been intensely debated; which way the PR weathervane is pointed, whether it matters. Offhand, it's not pointing in either direction because it hasn't really started yet.
For fans closely following the NBA lockout, it's been easy to conclude media coverage of the lockout has had little to no effect when arousing meaningful ire (for one side or the other) amongst the general population. We can only conclude the NBA lockout has been a circus operating below the radar, unlikely as that sounds.
If there is still no basketball once the end of football season is in sight, the casual fan will a.) watch hockey and/or b.) get pissed off. Well, ignoring the lockout is easier than learning about it, so I'm damn well certain it's easier for a casual fan to get pissed off than learn an entirely new sport. Once this process gets rolling, some real pressure will appear courtesy of non-specialized media outlets with wider demographics. Once an issue becomes prominent, people like to have an opinion about it, informed or not. That's when the PR winds will start blowing and we'll find out just how much public opinion matters to the owners.
What's the upshot for hardcore NBA fans? If at-large opinion has a disproportionate effect on the owners' stance, we can probably conclude a.) the owners misjudged the climate or b.) they were only willing to make the hardcore fans suffer and didn't have the stomach for a protracted campaign that destroyed good will. In all honesty, this almost certainly won't happen, the owners have been very clear from the beginning that they are willing to lose the season. The main thing I'm worried about here is that once the lockout moves into the larger public sphere there's going to be an ideological hardening of both positions (interesting to watch, if 2% is still all that's separating them) and we'll have to listen to all the same arguments we're intimately familiar with by now before the two sides are willing to meet again. It's possible, I hope it's not probably, but in the end there's only one thought in my head. Please, no.