I'm on the Lakers beat in a city where Lakers basketball dominates the sports landscape at a website that covers the Lakers and on a radio station holding the broadcast rights to Lakers games.Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire
They care about many things in St. Louis. The NBA is not one of them.
Fair to say, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the lockout.
I'm not the only one. Fans in L.A. care deeply about hoops. The Lakers specifically, but increasingly the Clippers as well -- thank you Blake Griffin-- and have invested time and energy of their own following the NBA's labor problems. But assuming our local experience is similar to every other city across the country would be a mistake. This week, I visited family back in St. Louis. There, people are consumed by the Cardinals' improbable run to the World Series. Or they're intrigued by a Blues team with playoff potential and curious if the University of Missouri (located about 120 miles to the west) will jump to the SEC, while the most masochistic still follow along with the 0-5 Rams.
To find a story about the NBA lockout at the Post-Dispatch's website, you'll first have to find the "More Sports" tab, then scroll through headlines about speed skating, Missouri State football (that's D-II to you and me (Correction, 10.23-- The Bears are an FCS school, not D-II), the Pan American Games, Sunday's Halloween 10K ("Unadulterated fun, St. Louis style"), and injury issues with Southeast Missouri State's pigskin squad.
St. Louis is officially the Land the Lockout Forgot. Or more accurately, the Land that Forgot the Lockout.
Over the course of the week, whether out of curiosity or concern for my job, I fielded a ton of questions about the lockout from friends and family. Not the next level stuff we get on our Wednesday chat- no mention of BRI, escrow accounts, soft caps, hard caps, mid-level exceptions, and so on. It was all very basic and introductory. I felt like a 19th century explorer returning from exotic lands ("Tell us again about those fascinating, multicolored birds!" "What of the natives?") with tales unknown at home.
Obviously St. Louis isn't a hotbed for the Association, which hasn't had a presence there since the Hawks flew to Atlanta following the '67-'68 season. Frankly, the NBA could fold and I suspect half of its population wouldn't even notice. Still, even in the face of the NBA's growth, it's easy to overestimate the league's reach. Recently, a neighbor told me excitedly about her friend putting together a potential endorsement deal with a basketball player. "With that guy that's really famous. I think he plays in Florida?"
"You mean LeBron James?"
Last month, a person asked me (because I'm a man with insider knowledge) if Kobe Bryant still played for the Lakers. These were two L.A. conversations.
Meaning there are places and people basically untouched by the NBA. In good times, they'd be viewed with excitement, as areas of future growth. In the context of the lockout, the unconverted symbolize something completely different: People who get by just fine without the league. Both sides in the negotiation seem to be plumbing the depths of the rabbit hole, trying to figure out exactly how deep it goes. Players have to consider whether ultimately they can hold the line where it has apparently been drawn and whether the lost wages -- money never to be recovered-- are worth it.
Owners, meanwhile, have to consider the very serious implications of turning every city in the country and the world, whether for a few more weeks or a full year, into St. Louis.