There is a classic Internet meme characterized by a photo of a silly-looking bird with the phrase "O RLY?" written across it. The meme was designed to signify someone's response to an outrageous statement, usually posted on a bulletin board. For example, Nerd One might say, "Clearly, Star Trek was way better than Star Wars," to which Nerd Two would respond with "O RLY?"
I have O RLY moments all the time and, most recently, it came in the form of a "Rockets Insider" e-mail advertising an open house featuring new Rockets coach Kevin McHale. The team has these open houses every year, usually as part of an open practice that gives fans a chance to peek at the team during training camp, sneak an autograph and watch the Power Dancers. It's pretty innocuous stuff, but it's free and generally a good time for the thousand or so fans that make it out.
But, perhaps the biggest reason for the Rockets to host this open house is to sell season tickets, which is what brought me to my O RLY moment.
The e-mail reads:
Join us on September 22nd for our Rockets Open House at Toyota Center featuring new Head Coach Kevin McHale. Rockets Legends will be on hand to sign autographs and take pictures. Also, enjoy the show as Head Coach Kevin McHale is a guest judge at the final rounds of Rockets Launch Crew, Space City Seniors and Little Dippers auditions.
Receive a special behind the scenes tour of the arena while you view the very best full season and partial season locations for the 2011-12 season. AND if you reserve your seats at or before the event, you will be part of a select group that will meet Hall of Fame player and new Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale! You will also be eligible to receive special incentives like Toyota Center concert suite tickets, autographed items, and much more.
Doors open at 5:30pm and the event is open to the public. Concession stands will be open serving food and drinks.
Sounds like fun, right? There is one problem with this whole scenario: There probably won't be a 2011-12 season. The giant pink elephant in the room has the face of David Stern and the word "lockout" tattooed across its hindquarters.
I admire the promotional staff's enthusiasm and efforts, but anyone who thinks buying season tickets at this point is a safe bet might want to consider a less risky wager, like Texas might get some rain. Hell, even NBA players' union chief Billy Hunter recently said, if he were to bet on it, he'd bet there would not be an NBA season this year.
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I don't mean to be the one to sound the alarm bell here, but we are just about three weeks from what would normally be the start of training camps for NBA teams and about seven weeks from the start to the regular season. Virtually no one thinks either of those will happen and it only gets worse from there. Neither side in this work stoppage has shown any real signs of budging and they are barely even talking. They have talks scheduled, but even they aren't optimistic about progress.
Perhaps we were all so thrilled to see the NFL end its labor problems that we just figured the NBA would follow suit, but there are far more substantial financial issues facing professional basketball, and the union and the owners are a lot less friendly than they are in the NFL. Add to that the fact that the Commish clearly believes the time is now to restructure the way the league does business and you have all the ingredients for basketball armageddon.
In Houston, this is like salt in an open wound. We have a team that is just mediocre enough to land at the back of the draft lottery but not make the playoffs, filled with a bunch of tough, solid role players but no stars in a league where the star players are the difference between contenders and also-rans. We got rid of one of the most successful coaches in the NBA in favor of a former Boston Celtic nemesis, who is about as unproven in coaching as a person can be. On top of all that, the best player on the team retired because his feet kept falling apart.
To misquote Dickens, these are the crappiest of times, these are the most agonizing of times to be a basketball fan in Houston. So, when I get e-mails like this one, so sunny and upbeat despite the fact the only way we'll be able to see NBA players this year is if we have access to Euro-league play, I can really only think one thing, "O RLY?"