NBA commissioner David Stern has plans. He's a politician at heart, a schemer whose designs would be the perfect targets for the Joker's random acts of car-chasing terrorism. Locking out his players (twice), manipulating them to abide by stricter dress codes and accept smaller contracts, pushing to keep them out of the Olympics—these all qualify as "schemes."
As such, when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports first broke the news that Los Angeles Clippers superstar Blake Griffin had injured his left knee—the same left knee in which he suffered a season-ending stress fracture in 2009 and that he sprained in the 2012 playoffs—during a scrimmage with Team USA in Las Vegas on Wednesday, the thought of Stern Mr. Burns'ing was among the first that came to mind.
Even more so with Anthony Davis recalled to replace Griffin on the Olympic squad if, in the end, the two-time All-Star isn't fit for London.
This isn't to suggest that Stern is popping bottles in flagrant celebration after learning of Griffin's condition. If anything, he's likely none too pleased to see one of his league's bright, young stars suffer a setback of any significance, particularly in a competition that doesn't directly benefit Clippers owner Donald Sterling or any of the other deep pockets that comprise Stern's constituency. In other words, he's not pulling for his players to get hurt.
But that doesn't mean that Stern—the shrewd schemer and politician that he is—isn't going to do what he can to capitalize on this unfortunate turn of events, to see the silver lining in Griffin's cloud and use it to advance his own agenda.
That is, to limit the participation of the NBA's biggest, best and brightest assets in Team USA's pursuit of gold in international play, most notably the Olympics and the FIBA World Championships.
To date, Stern has proposed that USA Basketball restrict its search for talent to players under the age of 23. In an interview with ESPN's Michael Wilbon during the 2012 NBA Finals, Stern framed it as a matter of player health, citing Zydrunas Ilgauskas' struggle to find adequate coverage in his native Lithuania to support his argument.
Of course, he didn't mention anything specifically about American players or the bajillionaires who pay them, but he didn't have to. He represents the owners, not the players, and, as such, need concern himself, first and foremost, and how the former can best benefit from the latter.
It wouldn't come as any surprise, then, if at some point down the line, Stern were to present Griffin's injury (especially if it turns out to be severe) as Exhibit A in the case against letting established NBA stars partake in the Olympic experience. Stern's smug smile would only grow wider if Davis—a national Player of the Year at Kentucky who's yet to set foot in the NBA—were to come in and excel in Griffin's stead.
Even though Griffin, who turned 23 in March, would still be eligible for the London Games if FIBA were to implement a 23-and-under rule for the Olympics. And even though Davis' candidacy for Team USA was originally jeopardized by a tender ankle of his own.
But minimizing risk to players by withholding them from the international stage isn't Stern's guiding motive anyway. His goal is to get his league and its owners in on the economic action that comes with staging a tournament in which the best players in the world serve as the main attractions.
As Wojnarowski reported back in June, Stern's aim is to partner with FIBA, basketball's international governing body, to create a "World Cup of Basketball" on par with the event around which soccer revolves. Such a tournament would presumably give the league access to a new summertime revenue stream—TV deals, gate receipts, corporate sponsorships and whatnot.
And, to feign concern for the players' well-being, grant the NBA greater control over the training staffs and medical personnel to whom the participants would have access.
Despite the fact that the commissioner's concern has almost nothing to do with how the players are being taken care of. Kobe Bryant, the elder statesman of this year's Olympic team, recently told Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times that players will always find ways to play ball during the offseason, and that doing so in a controlled environment like Olympic training is much safer than, say, in informal summer leagues or on local rec courts across the country:
"I think that's the wrong way to look at things. If I'm an owner, I would want my player to play [internationally] because I understand that they're going to be playing anyway, going to be playing pickup basketball in the summertime, and I'm not going to be able to know where they are. They could be playing against a bunch of bums — no, really — guys that feel like they have something to prove and all of a sudden, a [star player] goes to the rim and a guy takes them out and now he's hurt.
Should the NBA restrict older players from competing in the Olympics?
"Here you're playing against the best guys, you have treatment around the clock, your [NBA] coaching staff can always come sit in the stands and view practice. To me, playing on an Olympic basketball team is actually better if you're an owner."
Kobe, though, is certainly smart enough to know that it's not about that, at least not in totality. Rather, the issue of player safety is just another useful distraction, a car to be chased after by those who don't see the bigger picture.
Which (surprise, surprise) is primarily a matter of money.
Just like every other scheme that Stern and company have dreamed up over the years.