This may shock you, but there are a lot of fans out there that dislike NBA commissioner David Stern.
People have accused him of rigging the league, setting up a system that causes small markets to fail, letting officials run rampant all over the play on the court, rigging the NBA draft lottery, hating their favorite team, hating their favorite player, hating their city and trying to give LeBron James an actual kingdom.
OK, maybe some of that was an exaggeration, but I've actually seen a lot of complaints about most of those topics.
Since Stern took over as commissioner in 1985, we've seen the league grow leaps and bounds and hemispheres as he's helped guide a product that went from being tape delayed during its most important time of the year to being one of the most popular sporting leagues in the world. Part of this was being in the right place at the right time.
He inherited a league that had Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the faces of the NBA during a time in the 80s in which style and flash became a huge part of American culture. He also took over the NBA one year after the greatest star it's ever known (some guy named Michael Jordan) had entered. Stern helped make the NBA appointment viewing for many and as accessible around the world as any league there is.
He's also governed the NBA during some very trying and despicable times. Part of this could be his fault. He has policies about the NBA that doesn't sit well with some fans. Part of this could have just been the timing of uncontrollable moments, like how he happened to take over when three huge stars resided in his league.
With that said, here are seven reasons fans of non-super teams might hate David Stern and the NBA, and why I think it might be a bit ridiculous.
Tim Donaghy, 2002 Western Conference Finals, draft lotteries.
If you want to find a "scandal" in the NBA, you can twist just about anything into what you're trying to "prove." Just do a search for the NBA fixing games on YouTube, and you've got a couple dozen Zapruder-style films that show you why a play was ruled incorrectly by a referee.
Tim Donaghy bet on games and possibly influenced the outcomes of games when he was officiating those games. It's hard to know what is truth and what is the process of covering his own hindquarters when the former NBA referee talks about the crimes he committed while he was employed by the NBA.
Certainly, the Donaghy scandal was probably the biggest black eye for the league during Stern's tenure, and with good reason. It took away a sense of innocence that the league had with the fans. Once the news broke of the charges and accusations against Donaghy, we no longer knew what was real and what was WWE-style of setup.
The Western Conference Finals in 2002 were always in question. Horrendous officiating against the Sacramento Kings in Game 6 helped the Los Angeles Lakers pull out a victory and move on to Game 7 in Sacramento. Eventually, the Kings blew that game on their home floor, and the cries of a fix being in amplified.
And when you consider the accusations of a frozen envelope to get the New York Knicks Patrick Ewing in 1985 or the Cleveland Cavaliers being gifted the No. 1 pick in 2011 because LeBron had left them or Anthony Davis being given to the New Orleans Hornets' new owner, Tom Benson, as part of a "secret deal" in the purchase of a small-market team, it's easy to make up these wild stories of why something insidious may have occurred.
The reality is David Stern should get condemned for the Donaghy scandal happening on his watch. While I don't think he was involved directly, it certainly seems probable that something could have been done to watch over the officials better to recognize something like this before it got out of hand.
However, that doesn't mean that even half of the stuff Donaghy claims is valid. I've read the book Donaghy wrote, and it's complete and utter nonsense. It's rare you read something that is supposed to be nonfiction and just get the feeling that someone is lying to you through the text.
Henry Abbott on TrueHoop looked into some of the claims and found them to hold no water. There was even a story done on HBO Real Sports that left far more questions about the claims and story than shedding any light on the matter.
Donaghy is a crook and a liar. His word has held up about as well as Donald Sterling's reputation. Sure, the WCF were poorly officiated in Game 6, but sometimes, games are just badly officiated. It doesn't mean it was fixed by the league. The lottery process has been unveiled to us by various members of the media.
Just because something happens that we don't like doesn't mean it was set up in a nefarious way.
It's tricky to claim teams are tanking in the NBA because you really should have more than circumstantial evidence if you're going to make such claims.
However, the circumstantial evidence can be suffocating at times.
Look at last year alone. There were multiple teams that were accused of intentionally trying to lose games in order improve their draft stock and long-term viability. Here were the candidates:
- Charlotte Bobcats: They seemed to gut their team and strip it down to its foundation so they could attempt to rebuild with high draft picks, low salary commitments and few chances of accidentally winning games. In fact, they did such a good job of this they ended up being the worst team in NBA history.
- New Orleans Hornets: After trading Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Hornets went for broke by throwing out a bunch of role players and "nobodies," being extra cautious with Eric Gordon's injuries and ending up with one of the worst records in the league. The problem with accusing the Hornets of this is, they actually played really well and won far more games than their roster would lead you to believe was capable.
- New Jersey Nets: Once the Nets traded away a top-3 protected pick, many people believe they were trotting out terrible players in order to get them to lose so they could keep their pick. Turns out, they were just playing the guys on their roster.
- Golden State Warriors: They traded away Monta Ellis to the Bucks for an injured Andrew Bogut, knowing they needed a top-seven pick in the draft to keep their draft pick. They ended up picking seventh. The problem with this accusation is, the players played incredibly hard for the last two months of the season and even won some games they "weren't supposed to win."
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving sat out a lot of games at the end of the season because of injuries. Considering he was keeping them in games as one of the best clutch players in the league, it makes sense why they would do this and why people would suspect it was happening.
The problem with accusations of tanking is you can't convince NBA players to play poorly so the team can possibly draft someone better at their position. But teams can give directives to play certain guys more, keep "injured" players out of the lineup and many other tricks to influence the probability of winning/losing.
There have been a number of ideas on TrueHoop about stopping tanking. There are ideas of penalizing teams or fixing the draft lottery to be unweighted or getting rid of the draft altogether.
None of them are guaranteed ways to prevent it from happening, and the current system that Stern has helped design and agreed to certainly gives incentive for teams to tank. Then again, people only seem to have a problem with it when it's not benefiting their favorite team.
I'm not sure what can be done to stop it but I'm in favor of altering the system to make it less fortuitous to tank games.
The playoffs take entirely too long to happen. I understand why it happens the way it does.
Most non-lockout years, the NBA gives teams quite a bit of rest between games.This coincidentally (it's not actually a coincidence) allows the NBA to have more prime-time nights, which leads to more television time, more advertising slots to sell and allow for more money to be generated for the league.
I don't think it's a bad business practice per se, but I do think it maybe takes away the luster of the playoffs if the matchups aren't spectacular. Ever since the NBA extended the first round from five games to seven games, it takes a devastating injury to the favorite for the underdog to seemingly have a chance at an upset. Winning four times in seven games is really hard to do if you're the underdog.
It doesn't mean it's impossible, and I don't think it should be easy to upset a better team than you. It just takes away from the drama because you know the regression to the mean is more likely to happen.
Does it really need to take two months to complete a maximum of 28 games for one team? Is there a way to make the first two rounds shorter or more compact? Would it hurt the quality of play to do this?
And while this doesn't really affect the length of the playoffs, the 2-3-2 format seems to be something the fans hate.
This is one issue fans have with David Stern that I'm on board with griping about. I respect the idea of trying to generate as much money for the NBA as possible. It's why I don't have an issue with tiny ads on the jerseys. But it seems like this apparent money grab by the NBA is actually affecting the quality of the product.
I love the idea that the best team in the NBA almost always wins the title (more on this in another slide). It adds validation and means a team can't just get hot every year and win the title, like you sometimes see in the NFL or MLB.
But finding a way to shorten the playoffs into something that takes six or seven weeks instead of eight or nine doesn't seem like something the NBA should avoid looking into, assuming they haven't reconsidered it.
NBA officiating can be really bad. It can also be unrecognizably good at times too.
Quality of officiating has become the biggest scapegoat for NBA fans, and it kind of drives me crazy.
Can the officials influence a game at times? Absolutely. Can the NBA seemingly turn a blind eye to poor officiating? Yes, they can. It would be behoove them to make issues with referees more public, even at the risk of turning the spotlight onto officials and making the story about them.
Are there bad calls or ambiguous rules? You betcha.
Officiating is never going to be perfect until Skynet takes over and we start using robots as our whistle-blowers. Until that happens, we have to live with human error. The league seems to be expanding the use of replay to extend to more types of plays in more possible situations, but it's at a fairly slow pace.
The reason they have to do this is, we can't have each NBA game taking close to four hours to complete because we're stopping to check if Serge Ibaka hit Al Jefferson's arm on a pump fake with 6:37 left in the second quarter. The speed of the game is part of the allure of a game, except when it gets down to the last 47 seconds taking 15 minutes of real time to complete.
I actually don't find much fault with officiating because of a few factors:
- It's really hard. Just because someone's job is hard doesn't mean they shouldn't be negatively critiqued when they do it incorrectly. But it also should allow you to understand why something that took four different replays from three different angles to catch might be missed in real-time.
- The rules are kind of ambiguous. There are some rules, such as fouling, that can be interpreted different ways. This is both good and bad. It's good because it allows some leeway when calling a game. It's bad because it leads to inconsistency with different officials.
- Teams can always just play better. If I see that a game has been called tightly and one team hasn't adjusted to it, I don't ask what is wrong with the refs. I wonder what's wrong with the team that lost.
- I've learned the rules. This sounds pretty basic and condescending, and maybe it is. But the NBA goes to great lengths to explain to you what the rules are and why plays are called a certain way. They've had segments and shows on ESPN and NBA TV to help show why a referee made a certain call. They have an online video rulebook to help teach you the rules. There are resources to learn what a charge actually is or why a travel isn't a travel because the player used the proper footwork on a gather-step.
People often just assume that their team lost because the refs were bad or the refs hate their team. That's seems like some grade school-level logic to me. Sometimes your team just didn't play well enough, and that's why they lost.
You can say that a foul should be the same for everybody, but the NBA would be pretty boring if every play was called the exact same way. This is supposed to provide us with entertainment. It's not a league that's supposed to make us better hall monitors.
David Stern could be a lot more transparent with how officials are reviewed by the league offices, and maybe it's time to add a fourth ref. But I don't think NBA officiating is ever the reason a team loses. That's a scapegoat mentality I can't seem to get behind.
Super teams are all the rage now.
In fact, they seem to have enraged fans all across smaller markets. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are the poster children for such a movement because they all have found ways to team up in a bigger market with bigger stars than they previously resided in.
While Miami is a desirable place for young millionaires to inhabit, it's by no means a big market. At least it wasn't before LeBron James and Chris Bosh showed up. It's been in the middle of the pack for NBA markets for quite some time now.
In fact as of March 2011, it was right behind Minneapolis in terms of market size, according to SportsMediaWatch.com.
That idea that a player shouldn't be allowed to freely decide where they want to try to work seems kind of ridiculous when you break it down. And to blame the size of the market for why teams are good and why teams are bad is just wrong.
If you must blame the system ...
Everybody knows the Magic could have gotten far better players than Arron Afflalo, picks and the like for Howard. But Howard is a Laker because the Magic liked the Lakers' offer better than the Nets' offer, the Rockets' offer or anybody else's.
Those upset that Howard is a Laker howl at how bad this system is for small-market teams like the Magic -- and ignore the reality that the only reason this happened was because the Magic chose this offer. This was their decision alone. They perpetrated this deal; they cannot also be victims of it.
The Magic chose this miserable package.
I have to believe they liked that offer best because it will most allow them to follow the model of GM Rob Hennigan's former employer, the Thunder. OKC was terrible for years, by strategy -- in order to collect talent high in the draft.
This is what another former Thunder front office employee, Rich Cho, has been doing with the Bobcats -- and he set a record for losing. The Magic will be right there with the Bobcats for a few years.
The Magic took a bad deal because that's what they were looking for. That's something the NBA should change. The best players in the world almost all go high in the lottery, to a collection of the teams that lose the most. If the best players found employment almost any other way, there'd be no reason for the Magic to have made the crucial decision to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
But for the lure of high picks born of terrible play, the Magic would have demanded great heaps of talented players for Howard, and the league wouldn't feel so lopsided.
You can blame David Stern for the lopsided market sizes and success from said market sizes, but the fact is, smart NBA businesses end up winners if they want to be.
The Lakers and Clippers are prime examples of why market size doesn't mean automatic success. The Knicks, up until about a year-and-a-half ago, showed that market size doesn't mean you'll win. The Warriors have been in one of the biggest markets for years and have struggled to figure out how to win basketball games.
The teams with good ownership and good management tend to figure out how to be great. It's why the Spurs and Thunder are trying to be replicated around the league. The current system is actually more of a counter balance to the market size than it is a funnel that leads players to bigger pastures.
This isn't something David Stern has helped along, but something he's actually helped try to prevent. Maybe he hasn't tried his hardest, but he's at least done something about it.
Flopping sucks, and there is no way around it. You can tie it into the problem with officiating if you want, and it definitely is an argument against why rules maybe shouldn't be so ambiguous.
Because it's a product of ambiguous rules, you can peg it on David Stern for being his fault, but the reality of it all is, he's trying to prevent a lot more than he's trying to allow it to exist. Flopping is finding a way to bend the rules without actually moving into the category of outright cheating. And if you think about it, it's kind of a smart strategy as long as its within the rules.
Lakers fans rarely complained about Derek Fisher flopping. Clippers fans don't seem to mind when Blake Griffin or Chris Paul flop. Thunder fans kind of smirk when James Harden gets away with an acting job. And Spurs fans could move the argument away from Manu flopping as something bad and turn it into an active protest to Joey Crawford and his "Tim Duncan-hating ways."
I hate flopping because it is just too dramatic and over the top. It went from a selectively used tactic to becoming as common as running a pick-and-roll.
You know who else hates flopping? David Stern.
“'Flopping’ almost doesn’t do it justice,” Stern said. “Trickery. Deceit. Designed to cause the game to be decided other than on its merits. We’ll be looking at that. We’ll be looking at a number of things that make it easier for us to say to our fans what we all know to be true—our referees want to get everything right. Instant replay, and the elimination of tricks that are designed to fool the ref, or if you don’t fool the ref, to make fans think that the ref made a bad call by not calling it, that shouldn’t have a place in our game.”
Stern hasn't been setting up the league to allow LeBron James to overact some contact to gain an advantage on the court. He's trying to stack the competition committee to get flopping and other rules implemented to improve the quality of the game.
This one could be spun as being on him right now, but he may take care of it soon enough.
I touched on this briefly two slides ago, but I just want to end this slideshow with a couple of thoughts about the idea that owners are unfairly pitted against bigger markets.
Imagine, if you will, that you own a restaurant in a bad part of town. The economy on this side of town doesn't fit your vision of having a five-star menu with one of the great chefs in the state and an impeccable wait staff with the best sommelier your city has to offer. You can't compete with the "high-class" restaurant in the rich downtown district because the clientele you're trying to attract would rather be there than come to your shady neighborhood.
What was the reason you chose that part of town?
Maybe you thought the area would be revitalized and cleaned up. Maybe you thought it was a better price to keep your overhead low as you start up your business. Maybe you thought your product and ambiance was so exquisite that people wouldn't care where they have to go. Maybe you thought the best chefs and staff members would want to come work for you because you're such a great and powerful businessman.
The problem is, you're not competing with the restaurant in the better part of town because you were stuck with this area. You chose to open a business in this area, and because you did, you have to get more creative in attracting the right people to want to come work at your restaurant and the right patrons to want to come dine there.
This is kind of like the NBA.
Owners in Cleveland, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Charlotte, New Orleans and other mid-to-small markets weren't forced to buy teams in those places. They chose to buy teams there. If the market is outside their capabilities of building a business in that market, is that really David Stern's fault?
Sure, the vetting process for getting owners could and should be better to avoid people like Donald Sterling, George Shinn and others who have failed miserably at putting out a product their fans love.
Again, David Stern is not setting up big markets to succeed over small markets. He's set it up for good owners to have good products. Maybe it's not the best system that is possible, but it's still a pretty good system.
David Stern will be remembered by some as a terrible commissioner who made the league less fun than they want it to be. He's not a perfect commissioner by any means, but he's helped build this league into something all of us love to watch.