I took a walk in the rain this afternoon.
I don't know exactly why I did, at least on a conscious level. I could've easily reached the cafeteria without going outdoors, and on some level, I didn't need to go there at all. But I was drawn to the cafeteria not by the grilled chicken sandwich I ended up getting for lunch, but by the basketball court just beyond its doors.
I sat in the bleachers, lined up with the top of the key -- my preferred seating view for any basketball game I attend -- and just looked at the court. It, like many courts around the country right now, was empty. The sounds weren't of sneakers and dribbling balls and rattling rims. There were some birds chirping and raindrops falling, and me, staring out at an empty court.
It took every fiber of my being not to break down crying.
I sat there for, well, I don't know exactly how long, but it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes, just staring out at the empty court, rain falling on my head. On some level, I've known this day was coming for quite some time now. The ongoing NBA lockout has been an inevitability for about two years, and the rhetoric during the lockout has leaned much more towards a lost season than any kind of agreement.
We now appear to be days away from a rejection of the latest proposed NBA collective bargaining agreement, a move that will almost definitely result in the cancellation of the entire season, if not immediately, then eventually. As of right now, it appears that the best case scenario for seeing an NBA game again is November of 2012, and even that's not guaranteed. And while logically I've accepted that outcome, emotionally, I'm not ready for it.
During the last NBA lockout, in 1998-99, I was a freshman in college, experiencing one of the best times of my life. I had a full class schedule, a position at my school newspaper, a new group of friends and plenty of activity to fill my NBA-less days. And yet the absence of the league still hurt.
It's much worse this time around. I'm 31 years old, and while I have a full-time job (one I'm very grateful to have), I go home pretty much every night to an empty condo. My last girlfriend and I broke up about seven months ago, and given my obesity and my personality (more the former than the latter) it's unlikely I'll have another one anytime soon if ever again. I'm not even sure I can say I have a handful of real friends, and I rarely see even the ones I do have.
What I did have was the NBA, which has introduced me to a community of people I wouldn't have otherwise "met". I have countless "NBA" friends; I don't know all their names, and many of them don't know my name. And though I'm unlikely to ever meet most of them in person, I feel a kinship with them that's hard to articulate. And once the NBA season is officially canceled, that's going to be gone. Oh, sure, we'll all still get together on Twitter once in awhile, but it won't be the same. By the time the NBA does come back, it's likely that some of those people won't. There will be Twitter accounts that go dark, or even get deleted, Daily Dime Live participants who don't come back, bloggers who move on to writing about something else, and, to put it as simply as possible, fans who stop being fans.
I don't want to overstate the importance of this community to me, but the reality is I suffer from depression. Not the kind of depression where you feel sad because something is sad, but the kind where you stay up all hours of the night staring at the ceiling, wondering why you don't feel things that normal people feel. I get into negative emotional funks for days at a time, and I find it incredibly hard to break out of them. I don't take any medication for this condition because... I don't know, honestly... some misguided sense of hubris, maybe.
Over the years I've found ways to manage my depression, but it hasn't always been pretty. It reached a low point in late 2004, with a horrifying post on this blog that has long since been deleted. In in the months following that, I returned to being an active member of society, thanks in part to the NBA (and also to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but that's a blog post for a different day). I'd lapsed as a fan following the '98-99 Lockout. LeBron James's entry to the league in 2003 started to get me interested on a regular basis again, but it was really in 2005 that I got back to my pre-'99 state of consuming as much about the NBA as I could. A few years later, I started a tiny NBA blog that got almost no traffic, but that blog was my gateway to the NBA Twitter community I mentioned above, and even when sports made me feel like crap, those people managed to make me feel better, and to be honest, the fact that I was feeling anything was such a huge step above where I was in 2004 that I looked forward to going home, turning on League Pass and immersing myself in that community no matter how I felt about that night's games themselves.
I think as I sat in the rain, that's what I was thinking of: the loss of that SOMETHING to go home to every night. Oh, sure, I'm sure I'll find ways to fill the time, whether its with TV shows or video games or exercise or even, God forbid, going out and meeting people, but I just can't get past the idea that it's not going to be the same and it's not going to be what I want. I've been asked the question of whose side I'm on -- the players or the owners -- multiple times throughout the lockout, and I've reached the point where the only answer I can give is this: I'm on the side of the people like me, fans who've made this game a part of their lives, and just want some NBA basketball to watch to make the days a little better.