A grand season for the NBA came to a glorious ending in the Finals.
On a night when the Mavericks were left celebrating a title and the Heat were left wondering what in the heck went wrong, the decisive game mirrored this entire season. It was intense. It was competitive. It was a ton of fun to watch.
It was a fitting finale to a splendid season.
Yet despite a series that put an exclamation point on this roundball ride, we are now left with some different punctuation — a question mark.
What's next for the NBA?
A lockout looms. Even though the deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement is several weeks away, it's practically a foregone conclusion that an agreement won't be done by then and that owners will lock out the players on July 1.
Now's not the time, folks.
The NBA has never been in a better place than it is right now. I mean that to include everyone — the league, the owners and the players.
I know there is plenty of talk out there about how the league is teetering because few franchises make money, many face financial losses every year and some are even in trouble. There are teams that don't have the revenue to pay their bills. There are clubs that struggle to compete year in and year out.
Look at the New Orleans Hornets. The franchise that launched Oklahoma City's NBA journey had to be bought out by the league earlier this year.
But here's the thing, some teams will struggle regardless of what the collective bargaining agreement says. They will make bad deals. They will use poor judgment. They will drive themselves into a hole.
No amount of wheeling and dealing by the league will change that.
Go back to the Hornets for a second. They were handicapped by Hurricane Katrina. No doubt about that. But they were crippled by the decision to pay Peja Stojakovic — Peja Stojakovic! — $14 million a year.
Even if he wasn't injury prone, he was never worth that much money.
What's more, the Hornets offered him that outrageous contract the first day he became a free agent.
Poorly managed franchises will make dumb decisions whether the league has a hard salary cap, a salary limit or any other measure meant to save some teams from themselves.
The thing is, the opposite is true, too. Good clubs will thrive no matter what the rules say.
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.