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Taking it personally won't help NBA players

David Stern’s policies have ruffled players’ feathers. David Stern’s policies have ruffled players’ feathers. (Mary altaffer/Associated Press)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 24, 2011
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Common sense dictates that this NBA nonsense has gone far enough, but, of course, we can see that it hasn’t.

And while it’s fashionable now to deride the league in general, and while I’m an aware enough citizen of this great land of ours to know there is only one professional sports league the absence of which would plunge untold millions of my fellow Americans into an incurable personal depression, count me among the sentimental hoop-loving fools who do indeed miss the nightly opportunity to watch the best basketball players in the world do what they do best.

Am I absolutely, totally alone? Am I a lone voice bellowing in the wilderness? Please, someone, reassure me this is not the case.

I mean, geez, this is Boston. Boston, I said.

Walter Brown. Red. Easy Ed. Russell. Cooz. Sharman. Heinie. Sam. K.C. Satch. Nellie. Bailey. Siggy. Havlicek. Cowens. Jo Jo. Chaney. Silas. Max. Larry. M.L. Kevin. Robert. Tiny. DJ. Danny. Walton . . .

Any bells going off?

Antoine. Paul. KG. Ray. Rajon. Big Baby . . .

Anything stirring?

Fitch. Rick Pitino (didn’t say all the memories had to be good, so I’ll also include Sidney and Curtis) . . .

Any faint rumblings?

Doc!

Eleven championships in 13 years. Triple OT vs. Phoenix. “Larry! Larry! Larry!’’ 131-92 over LA . . .

Any of this refresh your memory?

As much as this was, and always will be, a very staunch hockey town, the Celtics were the ones making most of the history in the Garden(s), most notably from 1956-69 and 1980-88. Only in Boston did people associate the Bruins more than the Celtics with the Garden(s). For many people, both domestic and foreign, the Boston Celtics represented basketball itself.

Some of the greatest basketball ever witnessed on this planet took place atop North Station. If there were bragging rights for walls, we know whose eloquence would carry the day.

Sure, I can only speak for me. I know what the NBA has meant to me, personally and professionally, since I arrived here many years ago as a hoop junkie from New Jersey. It wasn’t fun going through the labor negotiation process that resulted in a truncated season a dozen years ago, but the two sides did arrive, however reluctantly, at an agreement in January 1999 and the NBA did wind up providing a worthy champion in San Antonio.

But it now seems as if there is little chance of such a thing happening this time. The climate is unlike any we’ve ever known. Management has a faction that really would prefer not playing to playing, and labor, well, labor seems to be hung up on ideology.

Bill Simmons of ESPN.com has an interesting theory. If you are among his legion of followers, you know he loves the NBA more than the other three big sports put together, and you also know he loves to marry pop culture with sports.

Playing off “The Godfather,’’ he theorizes that the issue for the owners is strictly business, whereas the players have chosen to make the matter personal.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at it, and if he’s right, that’s really scary.

What has mattered most to me from the start is the idea that there is an angry minority faction of owners that really is happy not to play, if it meant opening the doors under the old agreement, which, among other things, granted 57 percent of the basketball-related income to the players. That’s not exactly starting off the “negotiations’’ in a deal-making posture, is it?

We have been led to believe the BRI split has been negotiated down to 50-50, and that some owners are still unhappy. I am tempted to ask some of these people why they don’t simply sell their teams, if ownership is so onerous. After all, both Golden State and Philadelphia have found buyers in the past year.

We keep hearing that there are owners who are willing to shut down the league for a year, two years, or as long as it takes to get what they want. This is a scorched-earth campaign that could destroy the league forever.

The owners are living up to their Preview of Coming Attractions. No one can say otherwise.

This all being the case, you would think the players would have enough sense to concede defeat, take the deal that now stands, and move on. They would still have a good life, a very good life. It just wouldn’t be quite as good as the previous life.

Simmons thinks the reason they aren’t doing this is that they see this as a chance to strike back at the owners and in particular commissioner David Stern, who has acted very much like the principal of a troubled high school during the last decade.

The players see dress codes, anti-jewelry prohibitions, and fines for what the league feels are various sorts of aberrant behavior as infringements on freedom and assaults on their manhood, and they are taking this opportunity to rebel.

OK. If that’s the case, I would say that while it’s nice to have principles, it’s also nice to have paychecks, and it’s a necessity for the league in general to have a chummy relationship with a fan base that has room in its heart for only one irreplaceable sports league.

The players have zero leverage. This isn’t 1966. Nobody is forming an ABA. The NBA is the only place for them to ply their trade. The owners are acting like despicable tyrants, but making it personal isn’t going to sway them. They are cold-hearted, ruthless businessmen, and they sign the checks. That’s just the way it is.

Yeah, I know, who cares? That’s what I keep hearing. Well, I do. It’s Nov. 24. I’m ready for basketball. I refuse to believe I am alone.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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