The average Philadelphia sports fan’s attitude toward the NBA lockout can be summarized in four words.
“When’s Iggles season start?”
That’s right, the potential loss of a 76ers season registers somewhere between “so what?” and “who cares?” in many minds in this town. There’s no doubt this city prefers grid iron to hardwood.
So the NFL lockout presents the true crisis. In most places, the damage won’t be done until regular season games are missed. Not here.
No, here, the die-hards swarm Lehigh Valley for training camp every August. If the Phanatics can’t check on how that prized free agent is doing, can’t study whether that rookie carries himself like a pro, can’t catch of a glimpse of that budding star, can’t experience the annual frenzied introduction to their football team, will the calendar ever really turn from summer to fall?
Will the players understand the excellence demanded of them if they don’t hear the boos for a missed block, don’t hear the howls for running a half-assed route, don’t have thousands of heated fans breathing down their necks? Will they relax on us once the real games begin?
Those are the only current concerns, as perception suggests that the NFL is much less likely to miss regular season games than the NBA.
But if this mess extends into September? Watch out.
The cause — an unsettled Collective Bargaining Agreement — will be ignored and the effect — no football — will be met with devastation and protest and anger. Lots of it. The blue-collar citizens of this town have no mercy for billionaire owners and millionaire players, no matter how complex negotiations may be.
Taking football away from Philly would be like taking a bone from a rabid dog.
But once the fury wears off, the despair will take its place.
Sundays will roll around like any other day, leaving us to dread rather than savor the start of each week. There would be no escape, no venue to let loose our passion and pride.
It would be Philadelphia’s own Great Depression.
And that is what’s at stake here; that is the dark cloud looming over this city during an otherwise sparkling summer in sports (how ’bout them first-place Phils?).
If the Phillies on top of the baseball world is bliss, the NFL lockout would be … a state no one wants to envision.
All of that said, while the news of a potential season-long NBA lockout will probably not ruffle too many feathers, it should.
If the NBA cancels its entire 2011-12 campaign, not only will casual Philly sports fans miss out on a league that is burgeoning with must-watch talent, they might also lose — at least for a year — the chance to fall in love with a gritty 76ers team whose promising future belies its shoddy attendance numbers.
Take, for example, Game 4 of the team’s opening round playoff matchup againsg the Miami Heat back in April.
To the star-studded Heat, Philadelphia represented merely “breakfast” — as Miami’s LeBron James put it — the first course of a playoff-long feast that would (ultimately not) be finished off with a championship for dessert.
And down 0-3 in the best-of-seven series, the Sixers looked just about cooked. They could have easily given up — and if not at that point, then certainly by the time Philly found itself down six with 1:35 remaining in Game 4.
But they didn’t.
The Doug Collins-led squad dug deep and went on a 10-0 run to win the game, a stretch which included back-to-back, gutsy three-pointers by guards Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams. NBA fans across the nation came away from the game impressed, not just because the Sixers refused to back down to the intimidating Heat, but because after winning, they did not seem surprised the way the thousands of fans in attendance did.
When we later found out that the players told coach Collins, “We’re going to Miami,” during one of the late-game huddles — implying that the team would win and send the series back to Florida — it made the team even more admirable.
This squad boasts no superstars, but they play defense (ranked 9th in opponent field-goal percentage last season) and hustle, two things that defy the common stereotype of the all-flash, lackadaisical NBA player.
And though Philly was eliminated after losing Game 5, this team isn’t all heart and no skill.
Power forward Elton Brand was once a perennial 20-point, 10-rebound player, and while nagging injuries have limited his production in the past few seasons, he bounced back this past year to start 81 of 82 regular season games — more than the previous two seasons combined. Meanwhile, forward Andre Iguodala is considered one of the top defenders in the league.
Then there’s the aforementioned Lou and Jrue — two crafty guards who are just 24 and 21-years old, respectively — and Evan Turner, the number two overall pick in 2010.
And finally, there’s Collins, a widely respected leader known for turning around poor teams (see: Bulls, Chicago and Pistons, Detroit). In his first year at the helm in 2010-11, Collins led Philadelphia to a 14-win improvement from the previous year, second only to Chicago.
Improved performance aside, this team’s collective resolve and grit — especially during that Game 4 — epitomizes the blue-collar identity of the city and would make them a compelling team to watch this winter, even more so if the NFL has the aforementioned cancellation of the 2011-12 season.
Yes, unlike most other cities, Philadelphia still has two other major sports teams in the Phillies and the Flyers. However, one thing is for sure during this uncertain period in sports: in addition to the owners, players and stadium personnel of both leagues, you can count Philadelphia sports fans among the clear losers in this whole lockout situation.Comments powered by Disqus
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