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Eric Freeman

Players union may hold charity games in event of a lockout

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We're now only eight days away from the first playoff games of the 2010-11 season. As ever, it's an exciting time -- we stand on the precipice of games that truly, madly, deeply matter to the record books, and, with any luck, the next two months will produce a gaggle of precious memories of well-played and entertaining basketball. I am standing on the edge of my seat as we speak!

The only downside this year is that the postseason (and draft) will almost surely be followed by a painful lockout as the owners and players union try to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. Both sides are unlikely to budge for quite some time, and it seems possible that we'll head into the fall not knowing if and when the 2011-12 season will start. It is entirely possible that we will be without NBA basketball for some time. It's a sad thought.

Thankfully, according to union president Derek Fisher(notes), the players union may have a partial solution: charity games. From Scott Howard-Cooper at (via PBT):

"I'd say it's possible right now," the Lakers guard said after Wednesday night's game at Oracle Arena. "We're so focused on trying not to be in that situation, so it's tough to go into full-scale planning on those types of situations. But at the same time, we have a responsibility as a union and as an association to really keep options that are viable open for our guys.

"There's so many challenges logistically, in terms of where you play, having the arenas, having officials, security -- all the things that a lot of times we don't have to deal with because the league is doing those things. But we looked into it before, we've looked into it a little bit now. Until we see that it's something that we're really going to have to look forward to doing, right now, it's still just kind of floating out there."

Most signs point to the lockout beginning July 1 and damaging at least a large portion of offseason business. Fisher said the NBPA will be "trying to continue to create ideas and situations and opportunities where we can really keep our players out there in terms of being in the community, being visible, letting people know that guys would want to continue to play."

It's as yet unclear how many of these games would take place, or how many players would participate, or which charities they'd benefit. It's also unlikely that they'd be played at the typical intensity of an NBA game, because, you know, no one would be getting paid. But, with no top-flight basketball around the corner, a subpar exhibition game between the best players in the world should be enough to get fans excited. At that point, we'll probably all be happy just to see some familiar faces again.

Plus, this is a public relations no-brainer. Even if the money goes to a charity like, oh, I don't know, the Needy NBA Players in a Lockout Foundation, the act of playing basketball when the owners haven't sanctioned it will give the union a boost. These guys just want to play, after all, and oh yes, by the way, they're also locked in a struggle to determine their financial futures. Won't you take their side against the evil audience who don't want these fine young sportsmen to give the crowds what they want?

That's an oversimplification of the issues at stake, of course, but charity games are likely to remind fans exactly why they like the NBA so much. As much as owners may want you to believe that the league thrives on tradition and stability, the fact of the matter is that people most like to see some of the best athletes in the world play a sport that mass audiences love. There's no better way to remind everyone of that than by playing basketball. The charity games get that point across while also helping out some worthy causes. What's not to like?

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