- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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What if LeBron James decided to stay? You know, what if he had not made a drastic decision? What if he had not done "The Decision?" What if he'd decided to just stay in Cleveland? Would the above press release ever have been drafted?
Answer: Hell to the no. Cue Whitney Houston.
Three days (and nights) deep into this so-far perfect NBA season, and the thought that this could all disappear or come to an end still lingers in the back of my mind. Damn you, David Stern. Damn you, owners. Damn you, Billy Hunter. Damn you, NBPA.
Why can't I enjoy the official NBA comeback without thinking about how soon it all could end? For years the league has been praying for this moment, this post-Jordan moment where it no longer has to desperately rely on or market one superstar player to battle the NFL or NASCAR or Tiger Woods for popularity and love. The moment is here. Time to bask in it.
But ... the collective bargaining agreement between the players and league expires June 30, and we're already hearing the words "lockout" and "cancellation" applied to next season. That's so wrong. Dead wrong.
Thanks to that "B" in NBA standing for business instead of basketball, the only thing I can do is think about how someone in a suit will soon screw this up moment for everyone.
I wonder if they -- the suits -- saw what I saw to open the season?
• The Celtics beat the Heat, then turn around and lose to the Cavs the next night to keep alive the "in any given seven-game series" theory.
• J.J. Hickson for one night replaces LeBron.
• The Lakers show that they finally might have a bench.
• Blake Griffin is finally able to ball.
• Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook put themselves in the Chris Paul-Deron Williams conversation.
• The Thunder and the Bulls give a preview to the possible 2012 Finals.
• Yao Ming returns.
• George Karl returns.
• The Knicks win.
• The Nets win.
• Golden State (Warriors 132) and Houston (Rockets 128) play the game of the year (so far).
• Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry position themselves as the best backcourt since Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton (RIP Pistons connection).
• An ingenious big bobble head campaign comes to life for NBA TV.
• The latest version of the hilarious game show "Who He Play For?".
• Shaquille O'Neal leads the league in free throw percentage (if only for three minutes).
• Orlando twice looks unbeatable.
• The Mavericks look like they could -- with Tyson Chandler as their starting center -- really, possibly, actually shock the world come June.
I wonder if the suits recognize all that this moment really is? After watching all that, how could they not?
The only things that have more momentum than the NBA right now are Apple stock and the Tea Party. Kevin Durant is ascending into that player everyone is going to want to "witness" every moment of his career. Rajon Rondo is on his way to being the reason people watch the Celtics, not the Big Three. Paul is in Year 1 of a two-year contract year.
The NBA is in the cumulus stage of the sports world's version of a perfect storm.
And while LeBron's universally maligned offseason move has come back to haunt him personally, it has been the best thing to happen to the NBA since Jordan came back from his first retirement. Numbers are up and interest is up. I'm not going to sit here and write that LeBron James saved the NBA, but LEBRON JAMES SAVED THE NBA.
People care again. Even if it comes in the form of hate. They care who wins; they no longer care less who loses. What was once mediocrity and evenly distributed apathy is now seen as parity, balance. When Orlando plays Miami (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), it's no longer a regional battle for Florida supremacy or for-the-week Eastern Conference bragging rights. It's now a nationally discussed, Scott Van Pelt Radio Show topic. It's the "Baby, uh, we can't go to the movies or dinner tonight" event.
It's a centerpiece to what the NBA has been looking for since the last lockout in 1998-99. It's Christmas in October, a gift. It's a blessing undisguised. But for some reason I don't think the suits see it that way. They don't see what we -- you and I, the ones who are relishing in this moment, this return -- see.
Instead, they see a future of labor talks, negotiation tactics and power struggles to gain leverage. Balance sheets and contracts are more important to them than the labor put in by players on the court and the people who market the league off the court to get the NBA back to this level.
Logic suggests we should never read too much into a few season-opening games. LeBron and a single press release do not guarantee an immensely bright future, but it's a more promising one than my kids have ever seen.
Logic don't know how long I prayed for this moment to return -- only to have reality set in and remind me that it could all disappear in less than a year.
Damn you, suits.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
Three days (and nights) deep into this so-far perfect NBA season, and the thought that this could all disappear lingers. Damn you, David Stern. Damn you, owners. Damn you, Billy Hunter. Damn you, NBPA.