A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

How the NBA lockout is like the movie Heat

with 2 comments

Cover of "Heat"

Cover of Heat

So if you’re an NBA fan, you probably know lockout has started. So much for the summer of analytical trade reaction articles on A Substitute for War.

You may not believe this, but the best visual representation for the NBA lockout is the movie Heat. Released in 1995, it was the first Robert De Niro-Al Pacino pairing in a movie.

Here’s why the NBA Lockout is like Heat (spoiler alert by the way):

–  The first 2 hours of Heat has LAPD super cop Vincent Hanna (Pacino) chasing armed robber extraordinare Neil MacCauley (De Niro). At first, the LAPD is distant, still searching for the robbery crew’s identities. MacCauley’s group notices this and feels the “heat”, but continues to evade them. Likewise, the new CBA negotiations have been distant for months, one side chasing another. The heat will grow more and more on both sides in this case, but it will take a while before the action is a threat to start – as it does in Heat, which is a legitimate 3 hours long with a good 2 hours until the cops and robbers start shooting at each other

– Finally in Heat, the police and armed rommers are in close enough contact and aware of each other’s intentions that things start happening – the popping point of Heat’s pressure is a massive gunfight outside a bank in the final act (for my money, one of the best gunfights on screen). I expect the popping point of the lockout happens after we’ve missed a few months of the season, when the lack of income really starts to hurt both sides and the financial prospects of losing a full season really comes into play. Neither side wants the season to be cancelled.

–  Throughout the movie, we see Pacino’s character on the verge of a 3rd marriage collapsing – he is too dedicated to his policework, too busy to spend time at home. Likewise, the NBA owners are tied to their chequebooks and increasing their cash profits and not the fans. We like to think we come first, but we really don’t. We are Pacino’s wife, not his job.

– De Niro’s great weakness ends up being a female named Eady (Amy Brenneman) who he falls in love with and goes back to get with the cops on his tail after his bank robbery fails. The player’s Eady will be their spending. The high stakes poker, the drinks, the cars, the family members. They cannot survive a year and a half without income. That is why they will lose. Furthermore, Neil is someone who always planned to put his money away and stop robbing, but never did. He couldn’t give it up. Just like the players won’t be able to give up their spending. They think they’ll be able to, but they won’t.

– Val Kilmer’s character, like his armed robbery partner De Niro, has a weakness: Gambling. He also nearly gets himself turned in going back for his wife. Val Kilmer is the spitting image of an NBA player here. Gambling, overspending and family members who need money will take them down when the cheques stop coming in.

– Both De Niro and Pacino ultimately, live lifes we glorify but are removed from. As fans we don’t know what the rich owner or player’s lifestyle is. These guys are removed from society, too isolated, too focused on goals we know nothing of. They are both like movie characters and past that, portraying policeman and robbers we can’t relate to.

–   Heat ends in a classic standoff between Pacino and De Niro, both guns raised looking to kill the other. Naturally, Pacino’s cop gets his gun off first and wins. That’s how this will end. The players will cave when forced to choose between holding onto their desired CBA and a fully cancelled season – they will get shot. The owners will win because the owners always win in lockouts, just like the cops always win in cop movies.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, it appears the NBA lockout will be a lot less enjoyable than the movie Heat.

Written by jr.

July 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The owners will win because the owners always win in lockouts,

    People keep saying this, but it isn’t true. The MLBPA has defeat the owners countless times. Some of the same things that help the MLBPA exist in the nba.

    Owners are increasingly divided along small market-large market lines. This makes them less unified.

    NBA players careers, while not as long as MLB, is substantially larger than in the NFL. This gives NBA players a (i) greater ability to hold out for part of a season, (ii) and gives the average player a greater incentive to hold out.

    Owners weren’t able to get major players to cross the picket lines in MLB and play with replacement players. NBA owners can’t even use replacement players.

    In addition, NBA players have foreign leagues while MLB players don’t.

    I don’t know if NBAPA can win this battle. They will probably have to give something back if NBA owners really are losing money. If not the NBAPA could easily win this battle provided they are willing to hold out.


    July 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm

  2. Clarifying a few things: Heat is the first time DeNiro and Pacino are on screen together. They were both in Godfather II.

    Chris does not get turned in. His wife ends up tipping him off to the sell out.

    The analogy breaks down a little because Neil’s crew didn’t know they had heat until the stakeout scene. The NBA players knew what was coming long in advance, with some (presumably) taking contracts in preparation.

    And as for the end, I thought DeNiro lost because he hesitated. Hannah relishes peripheral turmoil because he’s obsessed with his job. McCauley relishes peripheral tranquility — he doesn’t even own furniture — as a code he’s trying to follow. He breaks the code many times and even confesses “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore…I just know I want to do it with you” (paraphrasing)

    Maybe that applies to the both sides.


    July 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm

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