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NBA Lockout Off Topic Theater: Rime of the Ancient David Stern

Welcome to an NBA Lockout Series that will draw cinematic and/or literary parallels to present Wizards personnel.  The lockout is long, and subjects to write on will become increasingly spare.  Prepare for basketball-flavored gruel, and that is as close to an apology as you're getting. 

Without further ado, the first edition of Off-Topic Theater will take a look at the story David Stern is selling and the impact it may have on his legacy, as told by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

It is an ancient David Stern / and he stoppeth one of three. / 'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, / now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

Well, David Stern is stopping three of three and everyone else besides, but responsibility for this mess (or at least resolving it) pretty much falls to all parties concerned.  Not a perfect parallel to get things started, but it will serve.  There's no denying the reasons this lockout might extend so long definitely required some explanation for some of us, and my glib prediction of a two-month lockout (max!) seems painfully naive, looking back.

'The season's doors are opened wide, / and I am next of kin; the rebuild's met, the franchise set: / may'st hear the merry din.'

Excitement is rising for many of us.  I am anxious to find out how Flip Saunders manages to maximize our developing youth and excited to see them in action.  Buzz is mostly positive for our team, and everyone is impatient to get on with it.

The Super-Fan he beat his breast / he cannot choose but hear; / and thus spake on that ancient man / the bright-eyed David Stern.  ...

And now the '98 Lock-Out came, and it / was tyrannous and strong: / It struck with his o'ertaking wings / and chased the salary cap along.

There's a little interpretation needed to make the point.  Stern has painted a very simple picture: the union's crushing victory in the last lockout set the stage for massive financial losses and the fiscal balance has been reeling for years.  I'll be sticking with the (mostly) unedited (though heavily abridged) source material from here on out.

At length did cross an Albatross, / through the fog it came; / as if it had been a Christian soul, / we hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat, / and round and round it flew. / The ice did split with a thunder-fit; / the helmsman steered us through!  ...

'God save thee, ancient David Stern, / from the fiends that plague thee thus - / why look'st thou so?' - 'With my crossbow / I shot the Albatross.

It is generally accepted the league's brand took a hit when Michael Jordan retired (Washington comeback notwithstanding).  The parallels weaken a bit once more, but it's safe to say that the opportunity for a new CBA offered the best chance for the NBA to navigate uncharted waters post-Michael, to guarantee a competitive and fiscal balance for the years ahead.

 And I had done a hellish thing, / and it would work 'em woe: / for all averred, I had killed the bird / that made the breeze to blow. / Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay, / that made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim, nor red, like God's own head, / the glorious sun uprist: / then all averred, I had killed the bird / that brought the fog and mist. / 'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, / that bring the fog and mist.

The 'stalwart' crew here is obviously the owners.  However they may have bemoaned their defeat at the hands of Billy Hunter (definitely not a bullet point you want on your epitaph), those complaints lose steam when confronted with the reality of contracts like Eddy Curry's.  Check out Tom Ziller's 'This is why we can't have nice things' series, if you have time (I know you do).  The owners can't be all blamed for this ... you have to fight on whatever battlefield you end up on, woe betide you if it's one of your opponent's choosing.  But a failure to operate smart, even (or especially) in unfavorable conditions, isn't something history forgives.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, / the furrow followed free; / we were the first that ever burst / into that silent sea.

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down, / 'twas sad as sad could be; / and we did speak only to break / the silence of the sea! ...

Day after day, day after day, / we stuck, nor breath nor motion; / as idle as a painted ship / upon a painted ocean. ...

Ah!  well-a-day! what evil looks / had I from old and young! / Instead of the cross, the Albatross / about my neck was hung.

Bad contracts existed before, but as more and more were given out with the NBA version of economic deregulation, franchises found themselves in cap hell, that "silent sea." Entire franchises were made completely irrelevant for years and years.  There's been a lot of talk about Stern's legacy, and should the NBA suffer overmuch during the lockout, you can bet the media won't hesitate a pico-second to hang the Albatross of the league's health about his neck.

Four times fifty living men, / (and I heard nor sigh nor groan) / with heavy thump, a lifeless lump, / they dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly, - / they fled to bliss or woe! / and every soul it passed me by, / like the whizz of my crossbow!

The NBA claims 20-odd teams lost money last season, claiming aggregate losses totaling $300 million, a ruinous catastrophe.  In such a scenario, smaller market teams can't afford to keep their players, further upsetting competitive balance.  This is a nightmare scenario for a man who takes pride in never contracting a team under his watch.  No one will keep throwing good money after bad, although assuredly not everyone is buying the league's line.  But don't doubt the possibility of teams failing in the sunset years of his watch is a painful one.

An orphan's curse would drag to hell / a spirit from on high; / but oh! more horrible than that / is the curse in a dead man's eye! / Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse, / and yet I could not die.

The lockout is nearing its second month, seven days, seven nights nothing!  More poisoned legacy stuff ... the longer this goes on, the more likely it will come to define Stern's reign as commissioner while getting things off on the wrong foot for Adam Silver.  The NBA is posturing for the long haul...but while Stern is determined not to get beat again, we'll see how willing he is to watch his bequest burn down around his head like the fall of the house of Usher.

David Stern, whose eye is bright, / whose beard with age is hoar, / is gone; and now the Super-Fan / turned from the season's door.

He went like one that hath been stunned, / and is of sense forlorn: / a sadder and a wiser man / he rose the morrow morn.

I'm fond of a saying; for every complicated problem, there is a solution simple, neat, and wrong.  There will be no quick resolution, there is no Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny hates you.