That's the last time I penned words for this blog. Eight weeks went by without my name showing at the top of the page. 53 days without any C.A.-led conversations, or laughs. No passionate op-eds, no cold-hearted statistical analysis, nothing. It's unacceptable and inexcusable, and it's coming to an end. The only thing I can say on my own behalf is that I tried, many times, to put something on this page. Even that one August 4th piece was a struggle. I wrote rough drafts for five different ideas that day, and wanted nothing to do with publishing any of them. I was in Stage 4. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
They say there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I come back to you now having completed the cycle. I spent most of last season in the first stage. So many intelligent people were saying the lockout was coming, every expert you can name was warning that games would be missed. This is the real deal, they said. The system is broken enough that only a shocking jolt can correct it, they claimed. I normally listen to these people, but instead I just kept telling myself "No, they'll figure it out". Even as the words traveled from one side of my brain to the other, I knew they were lies, and yet my opinion remained unchanged.
When the Los Angeles Lakers "gracefully" bowed out of the playoffs, the dam broke. It took basketball leaving my life six weeks earlier than expected for me to realize that the timeline of its return would be far more skewed. I was angry, but the anger had so many targets and so many reasons that the lockout itself somehow missed my wrath. By the time the lockout actually occurred, my anger was spent. I had proceeded to Stage 4.
Some of you may have been astute enough to realize that I skipped a step. That step, of course, is bargaining, and the reason it was skipped is because I know I bring nothing to the table. I don't have any chips to bargain with. I haven't missed a single minute of Lakers action in three seasons. I've probably written over 1 million words devoted to analyzing the team. I'm not trying to say I'm the biggest Lakers fan in the world, but I certainly am the biggest Lakers fan I can be. I don't have anything else to give.
It is my realization of the second part of the equation that finally snapped me out of my funk. After all, there are two ways to bargain. You can put more on the table, or you can threaten to take stuff off. You often hear in these sports labor disputes that it is the fans who are the most hurt, because the fans don't have a seat at the table. That's not actually true. Each and every fan has their personal seat at the table. The problem with that seat is that the fan really only has one bargaining chip, just one recourse. In order to effect any change, the fan's only option is very simple: Walk away.
Could I walk away from basketball, from the Lakers? No. It doesn't matter if the lockout is miraculously resolved next week, figured out half way through the season, costs us the entire 2011-2012 campaign, or worse. Basketball can be forcibly removed from my life for six months, a year, 2 years, a decade even, and I'll still come back. I'll still be every bit the fan that I am now, no matter what. So I truly have no power. That powerlessness is oddly cathartic. What point is there to being upset, when there's nothing I can do to remedy it. What point is there to being depressed, when there's nothing I can change to get back on track. There is nothing left to do but accept that the game I love will be gone for a long, long time, and when it comes back, I will be ready for it with open arms.
Last Friday, we saw the first real and tangible losses associated with the lockout. The NBA announced that training camps have been cancelled, along with first of what will likely be many rounds of casualties regarding games missed. It's only preseason this time. There's still time for the owners and players to figure this mess out without causing the rest of us any undue pain. But, if you haven't already, it might be time to come to grips with the idea that basketball is not going to be the part of your life that you are used to.
While you are at it, take a moment to think about, or discuss, what it would take for you to be done with this game. If the NBA is gone for the year, will you still be same fan you were when it comes back? How about two years? Can you hold on to your anger for that long? Can you resent the league, or the Lakers, enough to change the way you enjoy the game? If you find yourself thinking you could live without basketball, that the game doesn't mean enough to you, or that your anger will prevent you from enjoying things the same way, then you can revel in the fact that you still have power in your relationship to basketball. If, like me, you realize you are a lost cause, well, at least now you know.
There's nothing for us to do but wait. Calmly and coolly, with no emotion, save resignation. The game is broken. It will fix itself. I will be ready for it when it does. It took a long, long time, but I've finally come to that realization, while remembering one that is far more important.
The wait is better with company.