Thanksgiving is as American as the apple pie that commemorates its yearly arrival. From stuffing one’s face on the couch while watching early afternoon football to stuffing one’s face and then passing out on the couch during the prime-time game, Thanksgiving Day encompasses America’s most innate traditions. After all, what could possibly be more American than overeating while watching a full slate of NFL games?
Unfortunately, that was not a rhetorical question. Skip ahead 24 hours and we find ourselves a tradition that is even more American than its predecessor.
Black Friday encompasses all the essentials from the day before; there is still overeating (albeit of leftovers), football (albeit of the college variety), and annoying family members (sadly, some things never change). Yet something else occurs on Black Friday: something so American that it makes baseball seem like a pastime of the past.
You guessed it; I am talking about shopping. But not the type of shopping that involves a pleasant stroll through the mall while eating Auntie Anne’s pretzels and listening to subtle elevator music on repeat. I’m talking about the type of shopping that leaves people bloodied in store parking lots while others trample over their bodies in pursuit of the next best deal. The type of shopping that occurs just once a year, when the only thing smaller than the prices is the time frame in which they are offered.
The key phrase in the above sentence is “once a year,” because thankfully there are 364 other days throughout the year during which we can enter a Best Buy without fear of being shanked or robbed by the nice, old lady in a motorized cart. But while a sigh of relief emanates throughout the room, I’d like to warn you: 2011 is not like every other year.
While a majority of America was recovering from its Black Friday hangover on Saturday, November 26th, NBA players and owners were hammering out the final details of an agreed-upon-in-principle Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that would effectively end the work stoppage and restore order to the professional hardwood. The new CBA would put a stop to the lockout, allowing training camps to open on December 9th and the season to tip off just over two weeks later on Christmas Day.
Like eager kids convincing their parents to let them open a present on Christmas Eve, NBA fans were granted Christmas early. Yet before fans can remove the bow and tear off the paper, NBA owners and GMs must first assume the parents’ role and do some holiday shopping. Unlike previous years, however, when the NBA’s masterminds have had an entire summer to sign free agents and rework rosters, this year’s group will have just two short weeks to shore up their respective franchises.
And so I give you December 9th, 2011 — or Black Friday, Round II, if you will — when NBA free agents hit the market and NBA GMs hit the phones to woo them. Sure, NBA executives do not have just 24 hours to make their signings, and of course, agents will not be nearly as willing as the Big Box stores to offer Doorbuster discounts to the early birds, but with all the logistics of setting up and finalizing an NBA contract we can be certain that this year’s shortened free agency period will be just as hectic — although hopefully not as violent — as last week’s shopping spree.
Fortunately, this year’s free agent class is not last year’s, and thank God for that! After all, how would Lebron ever have had enough time to wine and dine with a Russian business mogul, blueball the city of New York and its utterly inept franchise’s owner, and defecate on the city of Cleveland on prime-time television within the span of just two weeks? Clearly, having the previous CBA expire after the 2010-11 season was the best decision the NBA has ever made.
Nonetheless, several big names are available in this year’s crop and they will all be looking for a place to call home for the holidays. The only question that remains, then, is whether a perfect December storm will delay their abbreviated travel plans.
Consider just some of the issues facing players and GMs as talks begin next week:
Training camp is an under-appreciated component of the NBA season, when coaches incorporate new players into their specific system and teams develop chemistry on and off the floor. Then there are cases like that of the New York Knicks, which completely revamped its roster last February and still has not had an entire off-season to piece together the new parts. With free agency beginning at the same time as training camp, all of this becomes increasingly difficult to achieve, if not impossible. It would be overly optimistic to think that a team will have its roster entirely set until a week before the season is set to start.
Sure, NBA players have been playing exhibition games for months now, but anyone who has watched the highlights can see that the level of intensity in such contests has not been up to the league’s par. Professional athletes are of course expected to arrive to camp in shape, but it is not until they are under the coaches’ eyes that players will truly be able to get into game shape. Considering that the league will be fitting 66 regular season games in a condensed time frame, conditioning could go a long way in determining the season’s top squads.
Let’s be honest, negotiating an NBA contract is not as simple as crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. The NBA is a player’s league and free agency is a player’s paradise. It is not enough for a GM to simply call an agent and work out the details of a contract. GMs must court their most coveted free agents before they can expect them to take the court, and the shortened free agency period will make this difficult. Will the players budge on their usual antics, or will we have another NBA stalemate on our hands?
More is sure to unfold as we inch closer to the second Black Friday in as many months, but one thing is for certain: the shopping spree will be fast and furious. Amurica!