Up until now, the NBA lockout has largely existed as more of a conceptual bogeyman than a bully taking lunch money. The focus had always been looming deadlines. In July, when owners officially locked out players, the actual season was too far away to feel scarily pressing. Nobody expected either side to negotiate in earnest until fall. Then that season arrived, followed by a series of stalled conversations and "what ifs." October presented the cancellation of games but they were in November, with all eyes quickly shifting to the high-profile date of Christmas or the latest possible date in 2012 before the entire season is canceled.
The reality of the lockout and its effect have been a can kicked down the road.
Tuesday, however, that changes.
At 7:30 p.m. PT, fans should have filed into Staples Center, listened to the sweet sounds of Jeffrey Osborne belting out the national anthem, then watched the Lakers do battle against the Oklahoma City to mark the start of their quest for redemption and a 17th banner.
Instead, fans are reduced to watching "Hardwood Classics" on NBA TV. Or taking in old clips of Osborne getting patriotic. (Or "On the Wings of Love," if the purple and gold wound is just too fresh to go there.)
It's always felt as though a safe distance separated negotiations and games on the calender. Even with the non-stop media coverage about a jeopardized season, to a certain degree, this mess hasn't felt any more real than a unicorn or the prospect of a Kardashian-Humphries anniversary.
The lockout has reminded me of being subconsciously aware of a bad dream. Unpleasant and even scary as the dream may be, in the back of your sleeping mind, you anticipate waking up.
But with Tuesday night's canceled season opener, Lakers fans are now officially caught in the nightmare.
I wish I could offer a poignant thought to make sense of this insanity, but, truth be told, I've got nothing. Zip. Bupkis. And honestly, what could our readership possibly want or need to hear from me, anyway? What could I say to make Lakers fans or basketball fans in general feel whole?
I've previously expressed thoughts ranging from optimism to anger to feeling dead inside. Perhaps these posts were moving. Perhaps they bored readers to tears. But the reaction ultimately doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, what you really want to read are my thoughts about the lockout having ended.
Until that moment arrives, talk from writers and pundits is meaningless.
Equally meaningless is talk from David Stern, Adam Silver, Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter, and the like.
I believe I speak for a lot of people when I kindly request player reps and league officials not to step in front of microphones again until a deal has been made. If a meeting ends without a deal, skip the rhetoric and just quietly arrange a time for the next meeting. No news conferences. No players union letters leaked to the media. Go about your business without seeking a camera.
As of Tuesday night, when we should be watching Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant do their thing, nobody cares anymore.
Nobody cares what constitutes a "fair deal" between people divvying up huge amounts of money. Nobody cares whether an owners' vanity-play investment is profitable. And certainly nobody cares about transparent spin from either side.
They just want basketball.
End of story.
The only way to win a public relations battle, for either side, is to end the lockout. Until then, both sides will continue to lose, and the damage grows with each passing day.
Memo to Stern and Hunter: If you think fans were surly when the lost games were merely left to their imaginations, wait until you see the reaction after the reality check sets in.