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A Ray of Light in Otherwise Dark Skies

If you’ve kept up with the NBA’s labor duel, it might seem as if things are extremely dire.  Both sides are committed to their hard position and it seems as if both would rather drive off a cliff with the other side than compromise.   Just this past weekend, news of a contentious meeting surfaced with Dwayne Wade engaging in a shouting match with David Stern and a near walk-out by many of the game’s best players from the negotiation table. 

The issues remain the same: the owners want to break the current economic model and make a new one that is more friendly (read: richer) for them while the players want to retain as much of the current system as they can.  Hard salary cap versus soft salary cap.  54% of basketball-related income for the players versus 46%.  No guaranteed contracts beyond 4 years versus guaranteed contracts that stretch into year 6.  The players get some of the revenue-sharing model versus not getting any.  In short, major issues remain and the talk from both sides is of digging themselves in and eschewing a compromise of any kind.

This, obviously, does not portend well for a complete regular season.  We’ve already seen a huge chunk of the preseason games cancelled.  And with players wearing fine Italian suits and not training gear to start their preseason camps, the likelihood of an eleven-hour agreement that saves the start of the regular season for November 1st looks less and less likely.  At best, we will get a shortened season similar to 1999’s.  At worst, the NBA will join the NHL in ignominy by cancelling their entire season. 

The one thing both sides seem to agree upon is that they are desperate to prove to one another just how important they really, really are to the other side.

In the midst of all this, you’d be surprised if anyone is really thinking about signing up for season tickets.  Even if you put aside the NBA’s self-made woes, the economy is slumping and people are turning more and more Spartan with their finances. 

And yet, while all of this is happening, the Hornets – the “they should be contracted/no one wants them there/NBA owns them” Hornets – have sold a league-best 1,000 full season ticket packages since July 1st, the start of the lockout.  (Read here for the full story).  They are on pace to have 10,000 season tickets sold for next season – whenever that starts – which is another league best mark. 

The Hornets started at the end of last season with their “I’m In” campaign and haven’t stopped hustling, busting their butts and trying to get as many local fans as they can to commit to the team – all the while, very aware that the season may not happen.  They went and held 100 special events in 100 days – going so far as to go into fans’ homes and inviting potential new ticket owners to come and listen to them.  This work would be commendable in normal times.  But to do it in these trying times is more impressive. 

It’s also a sign that, whatever tale the national media and punditry might spew out, there is a market for professional basketball in New Orleans.  That people in the Big Easy do like the Hornets and want the team and its stars to stay.  The NBA will hopefully take that into consideration once the season does finally start and the future of this team is sorted out.

The NBA has big issues to work through in the next few days and weeks.  But at least fan support in New Orleans isn’t one of them.

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