They look for all the world like a bunch of greedy gold-diggers fighting over the mother lode, these owners and players who broke off talks suddenly last week in the latest episode of the NBA's version of "Men behaving badly."

Most casual fans can easily turn up their noses and say they don't care. Call us if and when the season starts, they seem to be saying as they change the channel to watch baseball's home run race and count the money they are saving.Pro sports - athletes in particular - just don't get it. They lack a basic understanding of why they are popular and to whom they owe their enormous wealth.

The standard reaction, it seems, is to blame the owners for continually complaining about high salaries while, at the same time, writing bigger and bigger checks. But that ignores the competitive realities under which they all operate. Without tighter rules, the only possible alternative they face is to collude to keep salaries low, and that's the kind of thing that got baseball owners into a mound of trouble.

What the players need is a grip on reality. Their salaries have made a family of four have to shell out $214.28 for an average night at the game. If the players were 19th century steel workers bleeding from management-imposed violence in Homestead, Pa., we would have sympathy. If they were miners trying to survive on skimpy salaries and impossible working conditions in 1946, we would care. But these are millionaire employees complaining that they want more. Give us a break.

The owners, particularly ones in small markets such as this one, have every right to be concerned about salary escalation. Any players who bought a team (and many of them are wealthy enough to do so), soon would have the same concerns.

Here are the people who truly would suffer if the NBA season was canceled: concessionaires, parking attendants, hotels and restaurants near the arena and many others whose livelihood is somehow entangled with pro basketball. Many of them earn only minimum wage.

Hey, players' union, think about those folks for a change. What's a reasonable wage for dribbling a ball and putting it in a hoop?