By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) The NFL has turned us all into crackheads.

We have to have it, and can’t live without it. When we get it, we binge on it until it’s gone, and then we start looking for it again.

When it seemed for a time like we may go without it, we didn’t know what to do, since nothing replaces it.

As reporters massed in Manhattan lobbies to chase every last detail of the contentious labor negotiations, some hardcore addicts stared blankly at reruns on NFL Network or watched the strange scamper of CFL games – whichever video methadone that might take the edge off, dulling the ache enough to get through the day.

Then it was all back, and this new stuff that’s hit the streets is something else. It seems more concentrated, due to the manic free-agency period and rush into training camp. The high is higher, everybody’s doing it, and there’s plenty to go around.

Check this out: this was the most-viewed opening weekend in NFL history, with an average (!) of 19 million viewers per game, good for an 11.4 rating. The total number of viewers — 107,400,000 – topped the previous record set…last year. And it was five million more than 2009.

Instead of flopping on fetid mattresses in the dank basement of that boarded-up house on the corner, we’re lounging on our comfy couches, faces smeared with wing sauce, eyes sucking up every last photon radiating from our HD plasmas.

So it’s interesting to observe what’s happening in New York, now, as the NBA and its players’ union wage a similar battle that threatens to deprive us of games.

To begin with, not as many people care. That’s clear from the difference in both the volume and tone of the reporting. NFL talks were clear-the-decks news on national highlight shows, with hired-gun legal experts all over the airwaves to interpret every move, providing the closest thing to football they could – analysis of talking about the business of football.

Owners’ private planes were spotted and tracked more than those of any rock star or visiting dignitary, just so more guesses could be made about the progress of discussions. Twitter timelines crackled with rumors.

Nothing like that is happening as David Stern talks with Billy Hunter and the NBAPA. That is due in part to fewer leaks and better control of message by both parties, but the media have less incentive to dig as deeply or as intensely, since the audience isn’t hanging on every word the same way as it did when its precious drug was in jeopardy.

Stern has chosen a hard-line path at the bargaining table, working on behalf of the poorer teams to break the union, even as the healthy franchises in big cites would likely be amenable to compromise. The union may indeed collapse, with Hunter’s position particularly tenuous. So there is drama.

There just isn’t as much fear over confronting a world without the NBA for a year.

I’m as big a pro basketball fan as there is, but what’s true is true, even after the last, spectacularly-successful season. When push comes to shove, there is only one sport anymore that America actually needs.

Think about those TV numbers, again. 107 million. More than a third of the entire population of the United States watched the NFL last weekend.

That’s the hard stuff. The NBA is closer to coffee.

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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