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The Cost of a Lockout

If you're reading this, you're hooked. You're just like me. We're the obsessed. The endlessly devoted. The fools.

Whenever the lockout ends, we'll still be right here. We're ready and waiting for basketball. We never left. The NBA, sadly, doesn't need to worry about us at all. We love basketball, and we love the NBA, even when we absolutely hate the NBA. The loyal fans are of very little concern to the NBA.

When the lockout ends, my League Pass subscription will automatically renew. If you're reading this, you'll be among those who will still watch the games and read about the league and buy merchandise. Perhaps some of you will watch a little less or buy less merchandise, but if you're reading this right now you're hooked.

The NBA doesn't need to worry about us. But they do need to worry. For every game missed there is a cost. And that cost exceeds 2.5%.

There was a time when I wasn't hooked. I grew up with the Kings, and I loved them. I loved basketball. But I was also a kid with a short attention span, and my interests waned. The Kings were horrible, and I didn't fully understand the atrocity of being a fairweather fan. I started rooting for the Hornets. Mostly because I was the shortest kid in my class and had illusions of an NBA career, so Muggsy Bogues had become my idol.

The Hornets were a really fun team. Muggsy, Zo, LJ, they gave me the excitement that the Kings no longer did. I still rooted for the Kings. I still followed them. I just had two teams. Like I said, I was young, and did not understand the sins I was committing. My interest in the Hornets waned when the team traded Muggsy in 1997. The Kings, still terrible, held little interest for me. My devotion to basketball existed, but my devotion to the NBA did not.

In 1998 I moved to Colorado. In Sacramento, the playground was all about basketball. My friends and I played basketball during every lunch hour and every recess. This was not the case in Colorado. Football was the sport of choice, followed by hockey ad baseball in some order. The Nuggets were not a draw in any sense of the word. In my first year in Colorado I was able to buy a ticket package for floor level tickets for the Nuggets (starring LaPhonso Ellis) against the lowly Golden State Warriors (featuring Muggsy Bogues). The package also included hot dogs and soda. The tickets were $12.

The 1998-1999 NBA lockout began the following offseason. I didn't care. I thought it was ridiculous. I thought of it in terms of player greed and whining millionaires. I was completely checked out. When the lockout ended, I remained checked out. None of my new friends were die hard basketball fans and there was no reason for me to care. The Kings were no longer what I had known them as. Richmond was gone, traded for a guy who didn't want to go to Sacramento.

It was only when I visited family members in Sacramento that I learned the Kings suddenly had a fun and exciting team again. As bad as it sounds, that's why I came back when I did. I fell in love with the game all over again. Over the next several seasons I grew to appreciate the team and the game in ways I hadn't before. I became hooked.

But what if the Kings hadn't become exciting?

What if, instead of Webber and Vlade and J-Will, we had another lousy year? I would have been gone. I might have watched the NBA from time to time, but there would have been no impetus for me to return as a fan. I remained an NBA fan, and grew as a fan, as a matter of lucky circumstance.

Right now there are young NBA fans who have checked out. Kids today have more options than we ever did. Sure, it's easier to follow the game and talk basketball around the clock, but it's also easier to do a dozen other things. There are kids who won't be coming back when the lockout ends. They can't understand and rationalize why the NBA isn't playing. They buy the national tagline of "millionaires vs billionaires", and they'll move on.

A few of those kids might be as lucky as I was. Their favorite team might make a leap and become something more enticing than what it was before. But a lot of teams won't do that this season. Somewhere there's a young Cavaliers fan who is wondering why he should even care about the NBA right now. And he might not come back.

That is the cost of the NBA Lockout. Us diehards, we're here, and we're not likely to be leaving. But the NBA needs to be building its fan base, particularly among the kids. Missing games will drive them into any number of other options. Not all of them will return.

Everyone talks about the players losing money by not buckling. By missing one month they lose more than 2% would equal over the life of a CBA. But the owners are losing too. They're losing income from this season, but they could also be losing the lifetime value of a diehard NBA fan. Think about how much you've spent on the NBA over the last 10 years. Extrapolate that out to the countless young fans that are being driven away.

Yes, the owners might "win" this lockout. They might get their 50/50 split.

But at what cost?