“They say you find out what something is worth when you pay for it…”–William Holden, “The Devil’s Brigade ” (1968)

This is about the foolishness currently on display by National Basketball Association owners and players during the ludicrous lockout. However, this isn’t about their negotiations or the billions of dollars at stake, which has been written about elsewhere ad nauseam.

This is more about the possibility that big-time professional basketball is in danger of forfeiting its hold on millions of fans–rabid and casual. Indeed, if the overwhelmingly Black NBA doesn’t get this thing settled sooner rather than later, it could kill the golden goose while discovering that many people may be reluctant to forgive and forget.

What can the NBA be thinking in these bad economic times? Unemployment is at 9.2-percent, gas prices are sky-high and Americans from coast-to-coast are tightening their belts on everything–eating out less, cutting back on dry cleaning, buying generic products, getting fewer haircuts, brown-bagging lunches and canceling their cable TV.

Yet, billionaire owners and millionaire players live the high life but cry the blues. Why? Because they feel they aren’t reaping big enough rewards from their good fortune.

The ignominious lockout–which began July 1–could threaten the entire 82-game regular season, which would start at the end October. The last NBA lockout was in 1998-99 and resulted in a truncated, 50-game season that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Then, as now, the main issue was money. The owners and players’ union couldn’t agree on how to share the big bucks they were raking in. And then, as now, the real losers were the fans–people like those of us who groove on pro hoops, pay through the nose to attend games and spend hours soaking up the action on television.

As a devotee of the NBA since the early 1950s in Milwaukee–where the Hawks held forth before moving to St. Louis and then Atlanta–I can’t understand the discontent of young men lucky enough to be handsomely paid to play a game. On the other hand, I can’t fathom shortsighted team owners who won’t concede that fans go to games and watch them on TV to see talented players–and couldn’t care less who pays their salaries.

New Jersey Nets’ superstar Deron Williams was smart agreeing to play in Turkey until the lockout ends. He can keep his supreme skills sharp and earn $200,000 a month. I’d be surprised if others–such as Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard–don’t do likewise.

Meanwhile, I suggest the NBA use the lockout time to fix or eliminate some of its silly rules. For the last number of years, I have become increasingly upset by those that frustrate players and fans alike–and needlessly interrupt the flow of action.

For example, there is the three-second rule under which a team is whistled for a violation if a player is in the painted area near the basket too long. On offense, the team loses possession of the ball, while on defense a technical foul is called. Either way, it simply slows things up, which makes no sense in today’s run-and-gun game.

What’s wrong with a player lingering near the hoop when his team has the ball? It may have mattered years ago, but these days, almost every team is chock full of very tall players. Thus, no unfair advantage accrues when someone camps out in the paint.

The defensive three-second rule is even sillier with zone defenses now permitted. Since teams no longer have to play man-to-man, what difference does it make where a defender stands or for how long? As the punch line to an old joke goes, “Everybody got to be someplace.”

Next, we have goaltending. Most teams would give their teeth for a dominating shot-blocker personified by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, so why forbid a player to swat the ball on its way down into the basket? If someone is that athletic, fine.

Regarding referees’ flawed interpretation of certain legitimate rules, nothing is more egregious than blatant double-dribble violations, a.k.a. palming or turning over the ball. These days, almost everyone who brings it up-court openly breaks this rule.

In the pros, dribbling in this manner bespeaks a lack of basic fundamentals, along with a misguided need to show off fancy ball-handling skills. For officials to ignore it when someone so flagrantly palms the ball is to reduce this beautiful game to a sideshow.

Also bothersome are non-calls for traveling, a.k.a. walking or taking steps while handling the ball. This is clear to everyone watching on TV–even impressionable youngsters. Why help them develop bad habits that can only be harmful as they mature?

Finally, over-hyped 3-point field goals taint season- and career-scoring marks. Yet, real class always tells. In 1961-62, the Los Angeles Lakers’ great Elgin Baylor averaged 38.3 points-per-game without the 3-pointers milked by Michael Jordan and others.

Despite many believing Jordan is the best–I prefer Julius “Dr. J.” Erving–the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain was the pro game’s most prolific scorer, rebounder and all-around performer. For example, while Baylor lit it up in 1961-62, his whopping hoopla was second to Big Wilt, who averaged an incredible 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds.

During that memorable season, the Philadelphia Warriors’ star set the single game record of 100 points against the Knicks. In 1960, Big Wilt grabbed a record-setting 55 rebounds in one game versus the Boston Celtics. Hard to believe today.

Bottom line: C’mon, NBA owners and players. Bite the bullet, end the lockout, let the games begin on time–and fix some rules. And that’s the name of that pro hoops tune.