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Jenni Carlson: NBA can't afford a work stoppage now

by Jenni Carlson Published: June 13, 2011

Don't you think a guy like Sam Presti will figure out a way to build a team regardless of the law of basketball land? The Thunder general manager and his people will adapt just like every other good front-office staff will.

So, why don't the league and the union just figure out something before the deadline and move on?

Avoid a lockout at all costs.

Now is not the time for the league to shut down. The product is fantastic, and folks are taking notice. Strange but true — I was typing the first words to this column Monday afternoon when an email from the NBA popped into my inbox announcing that these NBA Finals were the second-most viewed since 2004.

Average viewers per game: 17,280,000.

Last year's seven-game series between Los Angeles and Boston averaged a little more than 18 million viewers per game.

Remember when everyone believed that it took teams from one of the major coastal markets to draw viewers to the NBA Finals?

Those days are over. TV ratings for the playoffs were up this year, and that wasn't just the case for games involving those big-market teams. Folks watched Oklahoma City and Memphis and Indiana and Portland, too.

The NBA isn't like the NFL where people have long watched playoff games regardless of who's playing.

Now, that is changing.

Casual fans have become interested in the league's stars no matter where they play. Folks in Chicago want to watch Kevin Durant. People in Los Angeles want to check out Derrick Rose. And for better or worse, everyone wants to see LeBron James.

These playoffs put the league's stars on stage, and they shone bright. The play was outstanding. The competition was great. The drama was high.

But if the NBA has a lockout, especially a prolonged one that cuts into next season, the league is going to jeopardize its increased popularity. Newbie fans who have fueled the increased ratings are most likely to bolt. Their interest is fresh and fragile, and a messy work stoppage will surely drive away many.

What's next for the NBA?

I fear it will be neither grand nor glorious.