MIAMI -- There's this almost unanimous sentiment that no one cares about the NBA lockout.
It's a notion that would seem to have some legs when you compare the frantic reaction during an NFL lockout that never came close to threatening a single game (those "Back to Football" ads were particularly ridiculous given that the length of the offseason was exactly the same as any other year) to the overwhelming yawn heard when the NBA's commissioner said this weekend's negotiating sessions could put the entire season at risk.
But there's a particular group of fans that should be very much interested in what's happening in New York this weekend, meetings that could very well decide the fate of this NBA season. A group of fans that needs a complete NBA season more than any other in the country.
That's South Florida's sports fans.
The Dolphins have become one of football's biggest laughingstocks after Bill Parcells left behind a roster ill-equipped for today's pass-happy NFL. A once-proud franchise has its fans praying for losses in an already-depressing season so the team can draft Stanford's Andrew Luck.
The Hurricanes have followed up a quality win over Ohio State with a flop of a loss against Kansas State, leaving its fans frustrated already while awaiting possible devastating news from the NCAA.
The Marlins can inject some life into this place, but not truly until that new stadium opens its doors in April and possibly unveils an elite superstar in a Marlins uniform in it as well.
And as much as the Panthers have a promising group preparing to start their season, men playing with pucks on ice wearing sweaters still gets about as much excitement out of South Florida as a pending tropical depression.
What else could possibly save the sports landscape here other than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat? Nothing else.
But beyond just reviving a fairly bored group of sports enthusiasts, consider what a lost season would do to what has been one of the most-talked-about teams in the history of sports.
This next NBA season will be even more about the Miami Heat than last year's was. By coming up short in the most baffling of manners in the NBA Finals, LeBron became even a more fascinating figure, and in turn the Heat became an even more intriguing storyline for the 2011-12 season.
Losing a season means losing that forever. Because once labor unrest ruins a season, the narrative never picks up where it left off. The story immediately becomes how the league will recover and how long it will take fans to be fully on board again.
Much at stake for Heat
And when you factor in just how devastating losing a full season of the Big Three would be both the players and their fans, it's fair to say no team has more at stake during this lockout than the Heat, and its fans have the most to gain if the season is played.
The Lakers? That team is in transition with a new coach and questionable future. Plus those five rings in the past 11 years would dissolve some of the angst.
The Mavericks would just be champions for that much longer. The Knicks aren't even looking to be complete until 2012. The Celtics already got old last year, and the Bulls are young enough to withstand a one-year delay.
The Heat is more desperate to see the NBA floor again than anyone. So while there was initially discussion about overpaid players like Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas being the face of the lockout, the Heat is the new face of the lockout now that we've reached the games-could-be-missed stage of the negotiations.
This weekend's discussions between the owners and players' union, which are expected to include LeBron and Wade for the first time during these negotiations, are particularly critical because David Stern's recent threat that the season is in peril isn't simply a negotiating ploy.
Based on the 1998 lockout, the owners don't tend to improve their offers once games have been lost. In fact, it goes in the opposite direction. And if the players dig in their heels now and decide to call Stern's bluff, then the talks will only go backward until, at best, there's half a season left to be played.
This weekend could very well decide if the Heat's chance at redemption will be delayed heavily and doused thoroughly with apathy.
This weekend could be a saving grace for South Floridians who've spent so much time calling for coaches to be fired and quarterbacks to be replaced that they've forgotten what it's like to be satisfied with one of its teams.
It already appears the NBA players are going to have to concede more than they ever expected heading into negotiations. But if they can manage to play the public-relations game, force a little bit of movement from the owners and come out of this weekend with a deal in place that at least allows them to save face, then there will be a full NBA season.
And the biggest winners in that scenario will be right here. That's something to root for.
Who says no one cares about the NBA lockout?