Tuesday night was the night the Dallas Mavericks were going to hoist a banner, get some hefty jewelry, and begin their title defense with a game against the Chicago Bulls.
Then the NBA lockout squashed that.
So, what can console those who will miss not only this celebration, but the beginning of another NBA season? Not much. Our panel weighs in on The Opening Day That Wasn't, pointing some fingers of blame before pointing out when they think this whole tiresome squabble will end and the games resume.
Make no mistake -- the bling will be on the rings of Dirk Nowitzki & Co. ... eventually. But when? Here's our 5-on-5 take:
1. What do you say to NBA fans on The Opening Day That Wasn't?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Just be glad this mishandled mess concerns your entertainment lives, not your real lives. If you have health and loved ones and other things to watch on TV ... well, that ain't nothing.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Even though we all had a bad feeling this was coming -- even though we pretty much all knew there was every chance that the regular season wasn't going to start on time -- I can only offer sympathies and commiserations. Would love to tell you that the lead-up time we've had to brace for this outcome has enabled me to dig up a wise or comforting proverb to share and soften the blow, but let's face it: It's a letdown of the highest order after the season we just witnessed.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Please don't hold much anger toward the players, who are mostly innocent victims in this fight. The owners, however, are proving why they were able to buy NBA teams in the first place, as they are squeezing all the leverage they own to get the best deal possible for themselves. Who wouldn't want to invest without risk?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Grab a good book. Break out a board game to start Family Fun Nights in your home. Go out and catch a good movie. Or if you're really feisty, grab a few thousand of your closest friends and start your own Occupy My Team's Arena movement. Wouldn't it be an amazing gesture if thousands of fans showed up at arenas across the league to camp out in protest of the lockout? Get it done, people.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Hang in there. As mad as you may be, there is going to be an NBA season and this will eventually be in the rearview. Money is a huge aspect in pro sports, but the parts you love, and the parts that are the best, will be back -- and it will re-energize you.
2. What do you say to NBA owners on The Opening Day That Wasn't?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: I can't wait until the deal is done and that gag order is lifted. There's going to be some explaining to do.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I, like everyone else, want to scream at you for taking away our game, but I know you're not listening. Rich men are doing what rich men do in a business negotiation. You're going to squeeze for every penny your leverage allows, then worry about how to heal the wounds later. Because you know that fans always come back no matter how loudly we vow to stay away. We've seen it in baseball and hockey. And we're deluding ourselves if we think basketball will be any different. So what I want to say is wasted breath.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Shame on you, all of you. The next time I read about a former owner who went bankrupt and homeless five years after "retiring" from owning a team, it will be the first time. Study up and learn about this business and stop hiring people who can't wait to spend your money on low-value deals. Start running the team like you do your successful businesses.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Follow Micky Arison on Twitter. But don't just follow the Miami Heat owner, let your voice be heard, too. NBA commissioner David Stern can't possibly fine everyone. It's time each owner made his position clear to the public, especially the home fan base. Regardless of where each owner stands, each one owes it at least to their fans to explain exactly why this lockout has lasted nearly twice as long as the latest Kardashian marriage.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: I understand why you're doing what you're doing. You've been frustrated for years and been waiting to apply your leverage. You've won, don't hang on the rim. Minimize the damage with your fans and your players and finish off the deal.
3. What do you say to NBA players on The Opening Day That Wasn't?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Poll yourselves! The silliest thing ever would be if you want to play for what the NBA has already offered, but your leaders just don't know that.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Ask your union leaders to please explain, after more than 120 days of this lockout, what the plan is. What is the prize that awaits you for trying to wait the owners out and holding firm in demanding 52 percent of annual revenue? Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1999 waiting until January made that deal any better? Why has Billy Hunter, whose union has been locked out for the second time in less than 15 years, following the exact same script he followed in '99? That's not enough time to hatch a new strategy?
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Fellas, get your head out of the sand. The huge majority of you will never make up for your lost wages this season, and you'll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life. In the (remote) event that you get 52 percent of BRI sometime in the future, make sure to ask for a tip from the players currently in 11th grade, though don't expect anything. In business, you fight for the best deal possible, not the fairest on paper. Today, that's 50/50. Grow the league substantially and then ask for 54 percent next time.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Use this time wisely. Consider what your future will be after basketball is done, for real. Put the barnstorming on hold for one weekend and get together en masse to hold your own rally in the streets of Manhattan outside the NBA headquarters. It shouldn't be too difficult for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose to lead 450 to 500 players in a symbolic gesture to show there's actually unity in their union.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Everyone understands this has been a tough process; no one in the world likes pay cuts and we all know you'd rather be playing. You proved that by playing for free for fans all over the country. On average, you are paid better than any pro athlete and still will be. You and your families will be very comfortable, and if you continue on your current track you'll grow the game to get all the money back and more.
4. How much damage is being done by the lockout?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: I've been covering the NBA only since 1998, but I've already seen its demise predicted numerous times. After the brawl in Auburn Hills, after Donaghy, and now after this lockout. Meanwhile, revenues and the audience just grow and grow. Evidence is this sport is here to stay, with resilient appeal. So I suspect there will be no damage that can't be undone with a few years' good work.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Alluded to it in an earlier answer, but instinct tells me that the amount of long-term damage to the game will be dramatically overstated. Nothing, in my eyes, could be worse for the NBA's credibility/image/viability than the Donaghy scandal was. But what was the long-term impact there? The fight at the Palace was another supposed death knell three years before that.
Let's be honest with ourselves, America: We love sports in this country too much to walk away. It's harder, no matter how sickened we are, to quit the sports drug than a destructive relationship. And the leagues know it. The brunt of the damage is being absorbed by the arena workers and team employees losing their jobs ... and the lost wages that NBA players will never get back. Imagine how it feels to be a Miami Heat employee who just got hit with a pay cut, only to watch owner Micky Arison burn $500,000 in fine money because he had an urge to get reckless on Twitter.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: It's a sliding scale that grows by the day, and by the number of NBA players getting cut from Europe. The NBA brand had finally recovered fully globally by the summer success of Team USA, but has now taken a hit with the number of "solid" NBA guys not playing well overseas. No one doubts the top 100 or so guys as being the best on Earth, but after that it's a quagmire. One day soon FIBA is going to demand that NBA champions stop calling themselves world champs too, or they'll demand a playoff in Europe to prove it. Maybe that's how the owners can make up for the millions they are "losing"?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: For now, the real collateral damage is limited mostly to the arena and team business operation employees who have either taken pay cuts or are out of work due to the lockout. In the grand scheme, college football, the NFL and the start of college basketball will keep the average fan distracted through at least the end of the college football bowl season. After that, it gets painful for all sides. So forget George Cohen. It's time to get Samuel L. Jackson in the room as the lead negotiator between the owners and union.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: The fans want great basketball, and they will be upset until they get it. When they do, history tells us damage will be repaired over time. Another season like 2010-11 would do it. The player-owner relationships will suffer, but big checks have a way of solving disputes.
5. When will the NBA season start?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: The start of training camps, the start of the preseason, the start of the regular season, the last possible date for 82 games ... the league and players have blown through every good deadline without sufficient urgency. Now Christmas-day games and then the last possible date for a shortened season are the next dates that matter on the calendar, and that's still weeks ago. I'll say Christmas just for fun.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: We actually saw some urgency in negotiations in recent weeks because 82 games was still possible. Now that the prospect of a full 82-game schedule is gone, you have to be worried about what that will do to the pace of talks. Dec. 15 feels like the earliest the regular season could start, but that would require players and owners shaking hands by the end of next week or thereabouts. Which doesn't seem possible. It'll be Christmas at the latest if there's any justice in the world, but who's going to be surprised now if we don't see Opening Night before 2012?
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Initially, I thought tonight. Then I thought in November 2013. But now I can see the players breaking down and agreeing to something in January. In two months they will finally realize what many of us know -- agents who are pushing them to hold firm do not have most of their best interests at heart. Players typically have a very small window to earn gobs of cash, and as any farmer will teach you, "You have to make your hay when the sun is shining." The sun is out, but no hay is being made. When Christmas comes and some can't spend as much as they used to, they'll panic and begin the healing process.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Santa will deliver that nationally televised NBA tripleheader under the tree. I've felt all along that it would be Christmas. Maybe a week before, just for good measure. I'm not sure the players truly have the resolve to hold up much longer. Many of the owners have been through hard and lean times in their other businesses amid the recession, so they're prepared for NBA Armageddon. I don't see it getting to that point. At least not yet.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: There will be a 2011-12 season, even if it doesn't start until early 2012. The sides have come a long way and know they can make a deal. They need some motivation to finish it, and the calendar and lost revenue and wages will make that happen sooner or later. Holding out hope for Christmas.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Henry Abbott, Marc Stein, David Thorpe, Michael Wallace and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com.