Beating the Buzzer - for Cash

Just when it appeared pro basketball players and club owners were ready to cashier the season, the weight of lost cash became too much for them to bear.

That, certainly, is how many fans will view the last-minute salvage of the season. League commissioner David Stern and players' union chief Billy Hunter finally hammered out a deal that gave something to both sides - but more to the owners.

When they resume in February, teams will play 50-to-55 games, not a normal 80-plus. Some commentators, notably star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, suggest sticking to a shorter season - ending the regular-season, playoff-season system that drones into baseball's summer months. Good idea.

Some fans may be so soured by the labor dispute that they'll leave their seats empty. But those who return will still see fabulously talented hoopsters working their magic - though a bit rustily, given the lack of practice. Players will still be fabulously wealthy, too - though young stars will no longer be able to match Michael Jordan, salarywise. The owners won a hard cap on top players' future salaries - $14 million a year, and not a penny more!

Such salaries lead many fans to wonder why players complained, anyway. Clearly both sides let greed gum up negotiations and threaten their sport, until good sense prevailed.

Pro sports can be great entertainment. But they're hardly indispensable. The important things in life go on without them. Players, owners - and fans - shouldn't forget that.

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