The predictable overreactions of David Stern

In a lockout that has taken on a life of clown-like absurdity, the lead carnival barker in this circus has become the embodiment of pink elephants on parade. 

 

I knew Monday was going to be an absurd day of NBA events. I just knew it.

I awoke as I usually do, got ready for the day, and scanned my Twitter feed for some new articles to read. As I drank my cup of coffee I read Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski's latest column on NBA Commissioner David Stern and his salary, and why Stern isn't saying he would lower his own salary if he's asking for so many give-backs from the players. My reaction was thus:

"Oh no. Today's negotiation session wont go well."

Right on cue a grim faced David Stern emerged from the bargaining session and spoke with the press. When asked if the players are bargaining in good faith Stern paused dramatically and said, "I would say not." The next day the NBA filed two complaints against the NBA Players Association for "not bargaining in good faith" and also to try to stop the players from de-certifying because it's a "sham" (which is interesting because the players have given no indication that they will actually de-certify).

Point of order: the complaints filed were predictable and predicted. This is pretty standard tit for tat in labor negotiations of this scale and should be taken as such. All the counter-complaints do is extend the process and all but guarantee that we will miss games this upcoming NBA season. Both sides expected this. The NBA was simply trying to get any future litigation on favorable turf.

On the macro scale, however, what has become increasingly clear is David Stern's overreactions, strong arming, and bully tactics which have made him both famous and infamous (and kept him as NBA Commissioner for nearly 30 years) are starting to get a bit more unwieldy. Even more than that, these veiled threats and haughty arrogance are boringly predictable. Stale even.

Admittedly this has been a difficult year for Stern. Dealing with a looming CBA crisis (has been projected for at least the past two years) and yet having the best year, TV-ratings wise, since the Jordan era can be stress maddening. Yet, during these moments when Stern feels provoked there has been some disquieting moments of classically thin skinned behavior that have led one to think "are you kidding me?". Chief among these is his assertion that he "knows where the bodies are buried" during the All-Star break this year after Billy Hunter's (head of the Players Association) speech to the players.

I know Adrian Wojnarowski's work well enough to know he wouldn't have published such and incendiary column unless it was a "message" from either an agent or the players association. It seems apparent that this was leaked to coincide with the first bargaining session since the lockout began. If so, it hit the mark. Separating this from the actual legal action the NBA filed the next day, you can see a clearly annoyed Stern lashing out at the players - almost in a personal way. Specifically, when the Commissioner clumsily compared the NFL average salaries with the NBA average salaries ... 

Stern on the Players proposal pre-lockout in comparison to the NFL deal:

"From where we sit, we're looking at a league that was the most profitable in sports that became more profitable by virtue of concessions from their players," Stern said, "and with an average salary of $2 million. Our average salary is $5 million, we're not profitable and we just can't seem to get over the gap that separates us."

It seems that the Commissioner forgot at least one thing. The average salary in the NFL is that way because there are 1,900 NFL players, compared to the NBA which has around four times LESS players (the NBA has somewhere in the neighborhood of 420 players, if you count 14 man rosters for the 30 teams). This was a goofy and odd comment to make which was roundly lambasted by the reporters who were covering his statements. I was watching the video of this unfold and I couldn't get around the fact that the Commissioner was angered and was taking things personally.

Yet more than that - it was just predictable. People know that the Commissioner is notoriously thin skinned, and his comments after the bargaining session were less about posturing than getting a public pound of flesh from the players. It was petty commentary. What's more it did virtually nothing to move the dialog forward. The way that Stern made the statements, it seemed like he petulantly wagging his finger at Billy Hunter and the Players Association for challenging him. As Stan Van Gundy learned earlier last season, Stern can turn ugly in a flash.

It's hard to ignore how beneficial David Stern has been for the league. He rescued (along with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) the NBA from drug scandals and tape-delay television of the 1970's and 1980's. It's hard to say if any commissioner could have had more of a positive impact on the league that Stern did. It must be noted, however, that the cracks in David Stern's facade have been becoming more-and-more pronounced. There have been hints that Stern promised new owners that they would get a radical new CBA in exchange for their purchase (at huge prices) of NBA franchises.

Maybe 30 years is too long for one commish? Maybe having three lockouts on your watch (brief lockout after the 1994 season, after the 1998-99 season, and now) is catching up with the Commissioner? Or just maybe Stern understands that player movement and a desire to be in large markets to further individuals on their goals of branding themselves globally, is an extension of his own marketing schemes that "saved" the NBA? Maybe the open extortion of the good people of Seattle (build us a new arena or else) and the glad-handing of Clay Bennett was a sign of sloppiness? Who knows?

At this point, with the chance of missed games or an entire missed season looming ominously on the horizon maybe David Stern should keep his acid tongue in check for the good of the league.

 

mortonagency@juno.com

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