We can do this one of two ways. The quick and dirty way, or the abstract and more complex way. As usual, I’ll give you the quick and dirty version first.
In an interview with Business Week, Chris Paul revealed the stunning information that the players know how much the lockout affects the fans and wish it didn’t hurt them. He also goes over the usual stuff about how the players just can’t give up as much as the owners want, and that they have a responsibility to further generations of players to protect their earning potential. He’s hopeful they won’t lose games, but he also says some day his son might grow up to need a contract and be proud that his dad fought for him.
You know. That old chestnut.
That’s the quick and dirty version.
Here’s where it gets a bit more complex, once you start to think about it. From Business Week, in Paul’s own words:
All I knew was that there was no basketball, which is why, this time around, it was so hard to walk away from the negotiating table without a deal. I know—we know—how much it affects the fans. And we know that if it weren’t for the fans, there would be no us.
We hate to see something like a lockout take place, but we can’t just take a huge step back. There are so many players that came before us—Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing—who got the game to where it is today. And what about the kids in high school who aspire to be in the NBA? We don’t believe in making sure it’s O.K. for ourselves now, but more difficult for them later.
Basic stuff, right? You’ve pretty much decided how you’ve felt about this. If you’re not associated with a team (in which case your response is much like Bob Hoskins in “Hook,” “What about Smee?!”), or the player’s association (a hearty “Right on!”) then you’re probably left wondering what the big deal is. The players are just protecting their millions and the ability of future players to earn millions while working class people struggle every day. It’s not going to earn your sympathy, nor should it.
But when we take it out of the pragmatic, and into the abstract or philosophical, we have a bit more of a sticky wicket.
Take out the context. Remove the players from what they do for a living, how much they make, the lifestyle they get to enjoy. Don’t even try to make them into something innocuous like plumbers, construction workers, database engineers, or the like. Just remove all of the details from their particular situation and focus on the actual construct of the dilemma they face.
The player’s primary responsibility is to what created them. In this case, that’s the fans. They exist, have meaning, are able to fulfill their dreams only because of this entity which gave them life. (The owners believe they in fact created the players, but this is a fallacy, without the owners, there would simply be another structure which would bring the players to ply their trade in front of the masses.) It’s a symbiotic relationship. The players entertain the fans, who then spend their money to further the players, who then play more, and so on and so on. While it’s true that corporate sponsorships, concessions, and merchandising deals all are third party entities who contribute to the players’ livelihood, those are all driven by the same beings, the creators (fans).
But then you have the descendants, the future players. These players are the same as the current players in every way. They have the same needs, likely the same backgrounds, the same experiences, the same desires. So let’s say the players were to say “You know what, it doesn’t matter. Not losing a year of income is what’s best for me. That’s what I need to do for me.” Can you really justify abandoning future people who you don’t know and who have no say in this debate in order to further your own desires?
Well, that depends on if the harm given to the fans is more important than the harm done to the future players. Or is it greater? Is depriving the people who allow you to do what you do (which is what you both want and need) for up to an entire year worse than harming the people who will come after you who have no say in this process and are depending on you to protect them?
That’s the paradox. They can’t protect the future without harming the present, and they can’t protect the present without harming the future. They can’t do right by the people who give them life (as basketball players) without doing harm to the people who are themselves in the future. They can’t do right by the people who they’re obligated to protect without harming the people they’re obligated to protect.
In reality, very little of this appears to the players. They’re worried about themselves and their pride. They’re worried about ensuring they can sail off into the sunset with as much money as possible. The fans are not at the top of their list of priorities, neither are the NBA players of the future. But if we remove the context of the players’ collective identity, their problem becomes easier to relate to, even if their lifestyle isn’t.