The leaders of what used to be the NBA players union took their labor fight to civil court by filing something called a disclaimer of interest last week, downgrading their organization to a trade association. But most fans had beaten them to the punch, having long since disclaimed any interest in the snoozer of a lockout that threatens to wipe out the season. The only intriguing development in the stalemate was the suggestion by Billy Hunter, executive director of the erstwhile union, that the players just might start their own league. With any luck there will be a Players NBA, and events will unfold exactly like this:
NOV. 30: Hunter and union president Derek Fisher, along with several star players, announce the creation of the PNBA, which will play a 60-game season in college arenas in NBA cities. "Having never played for an American university, I'm looking forward to talking with college players about how they negotiated their percentage of basketball-related income," says the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki. Fisher leans over and whispers in his ear. "What?" Nowitzki says, covering his microphone. "I thought we had a bad deal. Who runs their union?"
DEC. 1: Commissioner David Stern, who said last week that the league was facing "nuclear winter" and that the players seemed "hell-bent on self-destruction," ratchets up the doomsday talk. The new league "pushes the sport to the brink of a postapocalyptic world," he says, "in which the human race must fight for its very existence against bands of marauding mutants that terrorize the Earth." Stern warns the players to reconsider the owners' previous offer or the next end-of-the-world scenario he releases to the media will include "zombies and extraterrestrials with ray guns and stuff."
DEC. 3: The PNBA announces that the rules of behavior in the new league will be more "player friendly." Players will be allowed to trash-talk and complain about calls freely, and referees who call more than three technical fouls in a month will be subject to suspension. A league spokesman insists that the new approach is not meant to undermine the refs' authority, a claim that is called into question when Rasheed Wallace is named supervisor of officials. At his introductory press conference, the hot-tempered former forward rubs his hands in glee and cackles maniacally.
DEC. 4: Just to remind the players who's boss, Stern cancels games through the end of December.
DEC. 5: The PNBA schedule is released. Because some participants in player-organized summer exhibitions were late for tip-off, the official starting time of all games is listed as "7:30ish."
DEC. 6: The PNBA addresses fans' concern that there will be long lines to enter games due to extensive security measures, informing the public that there will indeed be metal detectors, backpack searches and thorough pat downs, but only for Gilbert Arenas.
DEC. 8: Stern announces he is canceling January. Not games scheduled in January. January.
DEC. 9: NBA owners meet to discuss the new league. The consensus is that players will never be able to get the venues, insurance, broadcast rights and sponsorships in place quickly enough to make the league a success. But just in case the players do make a profit, the owners demand 53% of it, including the change players have in their pockets.
DEC. 12: Several stars, including Kobe and LeBron, hold a press conference to announce that as primary investors, they will be the principal owners of their franchises. When it is pointed out that this will give them the ability to fire their coaches on a whim, James responds, "Coaches? What coaches?"
DEC. 14: In his first move as owner of the Orlando Illusions, Dwight Howard trades himself to Bryant's team, the Los Angeles Lazers, for a pair of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's old goggles. "I want to thank Dwight Howard for sending Dwight Howard to a contender," Howard says.
DEC. 15: Frozen out by the NBA's corporate partners, the PNBA offers discounted sponsorships to companies that would otherwise have no reason to be affiliated with pro basketball. First-year players will compete for the Pampers Rookie of the Year award, and the buzz is that in the Mary Kay Slam Dunk contest at All-Star weekend, Blake Griffin will defend his title by leaping over a pyramid of makeup artists.
DEC. 20: Unable to persuade any broadcast or cable networks to televise its games because of their NBA ties, the PNBA makes a deal with several websites to provide pay-per-view streaming video. Stern reacts by attempting to cancel players' Netflix accounts.
JAN. 2: The opening night of games are played, but online viewership is disappointing. Without the trappings of the NBA, fans find the games less appealing. But the owners, impressed with the players' ability to get a league up and running, decide to return to the bargaining table before the PNBA has time to become more successful. This saves Stern the trouble of trying to cancel the players' favorite TV shows.
JAN. 8: The players and owners announce that they have finally come to an agreement, and a 50-game season will start in early February. Stern declares that the world has been saved. Hunter says that the players' resolve has been rewarded. The public's reaction is understated, which isn't surprising. It's Sunday, and the NFL is on.
THE NEW PLAYERS NBA ANNOUNCES THERE WILL BE EXTENSIVE SECURITY MEASURES, WITH METAL DETECTORS, BACKPACK SEARCHES AND THOROUGH PAT DOWNS, BUT ONLY FOR GILBERT ARENAS.