As the NBA hurtles toward an all-but-certain lockout, maybe it's time that the camera focuses on the Commissioner and how he contributed to the NBA's current labor problems
The man who is responsible for bringing the NBA back from the abyss may be the captain of the ship that sinks into the ocean.
Through all the machinations and public hew and cry over player's colluding to play in the same market and how they have too much revenue ... one must chuckle at the irony of Commissioner Stern leading the owners charge to regain control of their product. The very man who "saved" the NBA by emphasizing stars and big markets now desires each team to be guaranteed $10 million in profit while restricting player movement.
The argument is that the NBA has an element of stars forcing their way out of small markets to large since Kareem Abdul Jabbar openly campaigned his way from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976 on his way to the Los Angeles Lakers. That the events of the last four years from the formation of the Big Three in Boston to the most recent PR debacles of Lebron James' The Decision program to the Carmelo Anthony trade to the New York Knicks are just part of the cycle of NBA life. Nothing to be concerned about. Just live and let live.
It's very clear that Stern understood that television ratings would be gained by promoting large market, star-driven teams. In the 27 years since he took office the NBA has only seen 7 different teams win championships ... only two of which came from small to mid-markets (San Antonio and Detroit). Also during this time you had a major referee scandal and the implication that game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 2002 (Lakers vs. Kings) had at best incompetent officiating and at worst an edict to extend the series to seven games (two of the three, Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney are still officials). This has not been proven ... yet the implication greatly benefited the large market team. Then we come to star players colluding to be on the same team. Isn't this the extension of the star system?
While as a matter of public record, I have ZERO problem with players leaving via free agency. Players fought for, and gained the right to go where they choose. In fact, I have no problem with Melo seeking a trade from the Nuggets. The team got far more in return than did Cavaliers and Raptors and if they manage to keep these players they will have proven themselves to be fortuitous indeed. Make no mistake the Nuggets are the exception to the rule. Yet, the Commissioner seems to think that both guaranteeing profits for all clubs (nearly impossible) AND maintaining the star system aren't contradictory.
It seems that Stern is attempting to cling to his notion that promoting the larger markets (famously saying a couple years ago that his "dream" finals is Lakers vs Lakers) as well as throwing a bone to the small to mid-size markets by trying to lower player salaries and enforcing a hard cap will cure the leagues presumptive ills. While this is all well and good, it doesn't address "profitability". In fact all it does is make it more likely for a team such as the Nuggets to lose "less" money. Comprehensive revenue sharing should be (in my mind) priority number one. Yet, Sterns public comments on the issue seem to be ambivalent at best. One thing is very clear, the divide between small market owners and mega market owners on this issue is very wide. David Stern should be in the middle, brokering a deal between the two instead it may be left to the likes of Mark Cuban to broker a deal between the owners. Far too many NBA teams are on the outside, looking in. When few teams are marketed, and many are ignored ... who's fault is that?
With NBA ratings seemingly doing well, this fight between players and owners (much like the NFL) is playing out in an absurd kabuki theater that seems to have an ugly end game ... with Stern trying to play the tough guy while straddling the line between what he believes and what he knows the small to mid-size market owners want. Unfortunately, what you see before you is the natural extension of David Stern's star system. There's no way you can promote individuals and glamor markets and then change your stripes. Make no mistake, what some owners want would represent a wholesale and dramatic change from business-as-usual.
The question before us, then, would appear to be is David Stern prepared to change his way of thinking? Is the Commissioner ready to promote the entire NBA rather than the top 6 markets that have franchises? If the NBA changes it's way of doing business will the Nuggets no longer be knocked out of a National TV game against the Phoenix Suns? That is hard to say.
It's difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. This time, maybe David Stern should own up to the fact that the NBA of today is the monster, at least partially, he himself created.