By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

There is too much ignorant squawking these days about the Decline and Fall of the NBA Empire. Neilsen ratings are down, the fan base is shrinking, and even the Commissioner's office says radical changes are needed to keep the game healthy.

Many alarming statistics are cited to show that the NBA, as we know it, is withering away right in front of our eyes.

But none of it is true. It is a landslide of gibberish dutifully parroted by sportswriters.

What the hell? Somebody has to fill all those holes in the widely-cursed 24-hour news cycle. We live in faster and faster Times. Big news that only 200 years ago took nine weeks just to cross the Atlantic Ocean now travels everywhere in the world at the speed of light, and gossip travels faster.

David Stern
Does David Stern, center, really want an L.A.-Philly final?

Any geek with a cheap computer can log onto the worldwide Web and spread terrifying rumors about Anthrax bombs exploding in Dallas or half the population of San Francisco being killed in three days by a brown fog of Ague Fever that blew in on a vagrant wind from Mongolia. ... And never doubt for an instant that these things might be true. That is the wonderful perversity of gossip in the 21st Century. Nothing is impossible.

Some things are more impossible than others, however, and the collapse of the NBA is one of these. The only thing wrong with the NBA -- or any other professional sport, for that matter -- is a wild epidemic of Dumbness and overweening Greed. There is no Mystery about it, and no need to change any rules. The NBA's problem is so clear that even children can see it -- especially high school basketball stars and half-bright manchild phenomena who don't need college Professors to teach them the difference between Money and Fun.

There is a famous "Three Stooges" film clip that says all we need to know about the NBA. Here is how I remember it:

On a warm afternoon in the summer, the Three Stooges decided to cool off by going out on a nearby Lake in a small rented row-boat and feeling the breeze in their hair. Why not? they thought. Floating around in the middle of a nice cool Lake was the smartest thing they could do on a sizzling summer day.

So they dressed up in their normal black business suits and set off across town to the Lake -- where, after long haggling about money with the boat-rental man, they took possession of a 6-foot dingy with two oars and a small tin bucket for bailing out the odd leak or two of stray lake water. ... There were other boats on the Lake, and young couples were drifting around happily in the shade of wide sun umbrellas. It was just another idyllic day in the American Century.

The trouble started when the boat sprung a leak, as rented rowboats will, and one of the Stooges noticed that water was rising around his ankles. He pointed this out to his companions and they began bailing water out of the boat with their handy tin bucket. ... But they couldn't stay ahead of it, even by using their black howler hats as bailing buckets. The leak was worse than they'd thought. The boat was filling up.

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It was then that they put their heads together and came up with a brilliant solution -- They would use the oars to punch a hole in the bottom of the rowboat, so the water could more easily flow out. ... And when that didn't work, they punched another hole in the bottom of the boat. And then another. They were getting desperate, and the boat was in danger of sinking.

Still they bailed crazily with the bucket and three hats. They were far out in the middle of the Lake and none of them knew how to swim. Other boaters ignored them, or laughed when they screamed for help. ... What a fine Hoot it was to see these three stupid, fat men flapping around like wild rats in the middle of a calm little lake. ... Yes sir, that was the Three Stooges for you, Real Jokers.

The moral of this story is clear as a new pane of glass to everyone in the world -- except the greed-crazed owners of the NBA franchises. They are dumber than the Three Stooges, and so is that babbling jackass of a Commissioner. Stern should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. But don't worry. Quick exit, Soon come. And it won't even be noticed.

The Game will go on.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears each Monday on Page 2.