When There’s Nothing Left To Do But Stare.

Photo by quinn.anya on Flickr

There’s a numbness that accompanies the regression of a nebulous conflict. Before the next series of events occur, there’s a semi-delusional waiting period that allows for optimism (insert vaguely positive buzzword here) to grow. Opinions are formulated based on tidbits for information. Most articles take into account the various needs and wants of the two negotiating sides (I never want to read the word “negotiating” in association with basketball again), and then juxtapose that against logical causation and further action. Side X wants this, so Side X should or will likely do this, and since Side X and Side Y currently stand at this point, the following will probably happen. Probably.

That period of back-and-forth was relatively blissful for an NBA fan, compared to today’s outlook. There were several things that could happen, and many of them were negative, but at least the possibility of “could” still existed. There was no pre-determination of fate assured, and that made the consumption of information and reports with bated breath at least palatable. Even the fear of the worst outcome allowed for a certain excitability, a rush of air from the lungs. It was like a great, terrible drama presented over and over again, rewritten each time with a slightly different ending.  The “We just don’t know.” statement could still be rationalized against familiar and truth-ringing fear. Eventually, we did know, and the fearful outcome was very real.

Turns out, the problem with this waiting period was its assumption of rational choices and lack of emotional output. Only the fans emotional output took center-stage, until the players stood smiling before delivering rejection. It was a moment symbolic of a likely suspect financial decision but a reasonable moral one. The entirety of the lockout has centered around balancing the mind and heart into a satiable point of equilibrium that allows for the twists and turns of what’s ahead. The shuffling ahead finally became the overture of mayhem it was always destined to be in the moment the players stood together, rejected the owners’ “final” offer, and chose the “disclaimer of interest” path. The current murky future died. A new one was born.

But the new vision of the future is different. Not only is there no prescribed “hope” in the current NBA lockout, there is no interest. The trumpeted false “apathy” that general sports fans were reported to feel about the NBA lockout ultimately found life in reality. Not even the most stalwart NBA fan can gather enthusiasm when the presence of certainty becomes tangible. There can no longer be any moral victory or relief, only resigned resolution.

And so we’ll wait. In a way, the crashing tide of bad news freed the minds of many. The sports mind can only be captivated so long by the news of millionaires and billionaires negotiating business deals. It can be held even less long by a lack of negotiations at all. When there’s nothing left to follow but court proceedings and conference calls with David Stern, it’s a basic choice to simply sigh and slowly remove interest from the situation. If you listen closely online, you can almost hear basketball fans closing their computers. Sure, they’ll watch the occasional report on TV. They’ll keep up with the situation. But their emotional investment will slowly fade (at least for the short-term) in a sport that demands emotional investment.

There are reasons the players chose to reject the owners’ slanted deal, and they aren’t bad ones. Maybe they’ll achieve “victory” during their day in court or negotiations, and maybe they won’t. But I hope the NBA doesn’t expect a warm welcome when it inevitably returns. It won’t even a get harsh welcome. Instead, it’ll receive a far worse, apathetic greeting from many. The NBA will be back. The enthusiasm of many fans won’t.

But that enthusiasm won’t turn sour. It’ll take form as a blank stare.

Seth Carstens