If games are missed, don’t expect fans to come rushing back

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Despite all the doom and gloom rhetoric, you can expect to see NBA basketball this season. Not on time — they could reach a deal in the next week that saves the full season, if you think both sides are really willing and ready to compromise — but there will be games. Eventually.

The question is will the fans come back?

Jeff Van Gundy — the former NBA head coach and current ABC analyst — isn’t so sure, he told Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger.

“What’s interesting to me is, when you’re in professional sports sometimes, you get the impression that more people care than really do,” Van Gundy, the former Knicks coach, said. “And you better be careful, because there are other things people can do with their income.”

Right now, everyone is talking football. But come Nov. 1, when the NBA regular season was set to tip of, if there are no games and no labor peace, it will be big news and people will notice. And they will look at their finances, the nation’s finances, and they will be angry. The league will pay a steep price. To strike during a recession like this will bring a more harsh reaction from fans than previous work stoppages.

The NFL could get away with it, that is a different animal, Van Gundy said

“Face it, whether you’re an NFL season-ticket holder and have to buy 10 games, it’s on weekends and Monday nights — it’s predictable, it doesn’t change your lifestyle,” he said. “Even the fans of the worst (NFL) teams don’t complain; they’re coming back, because it’s a weekly tradition.

“But the season-ticket holder in the NBA is different. People split the package. It’s a major time and financial commitment. I’m not trying to be gloom and doom here. It’s just that people don’t have the disposable income they used to have, and it’s not like they’re pining for NBA basketball. I just worry at some point — I know at some point — that some sport will go too far. It just will. Whatever that entails.”

The NBA is on the edge of too far right now, heading into Fridays’ talks in New York. Both sides need to give in come the weekend, otherwise the size of that pie they are fighting over how to divide up will get a lot smaller. Fans will not come back quickly.