Did the NBA Tamper with ESPN's Bid to Hire Stan Van Gundy?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

May 2, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy reacts after a turnover by his team during the fourth quarter of game three in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Amway Center. Indiana defeated Orlando, 97-74. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE
Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Regardless of what you thought about Stan Van Gundy the coach, the prospect of an on-air version had to have you intrigued.

Maybe a little more than intrigued.

This is the guy who told us Dwight Howard had tried to get him fired well before he was actually fired by the Orlando Magic. He's never felt especially beholden to a party line, and that was perhaps his undoing when ESPN came calling.

You could certainly imagine the network's reticence toward bringing in such a straight-shooter. As successful as brother Jeff Van Gundy has been in his role a color analyst for ESPN, two Van Gundys might have been too much of a good thing.

The only problem with that narrative is that ESPN didn't see things that way initially.

The two sides originally had a deal in place, one that fell apart this October. Chris Sheridan reports that ESPN pulled the plug on the deal, even wondering aloud if "Commissioner David Stern [could] have squashed outspoken Stan’s gig."

Jeff Van Gundy isn't wondering (via USA Today's Michael Hiestand):

Jeff, who hadn't previously spoken publicly on the issue until an interview with USA TODAY Sports, says his brother "had a basic agreement" to become an ESPN/ABC analyst in the marquee studio shows that wrap around game coverage: "And then something changed. There's certainly circumstantial evidence that something from the outside—presumably the NBA—changed (ESPN's) thinking. ... I was happy when they came to an agreement and shocked when they pulled their offer."

There's no shortage of irony in the outspoken defense, a reminder of the liability the Van Gundy brothers pose to the league's more politically correct sensibilities.

There's also no shortage of truth, though.

Surely ESPN knows what bad business looks like, but nixing a deal without a fair explanation certainly fits the profile. For his part, Jeff has remained relatively effusive in his praise for the network. 

It seemed to have the right idea here, understanding the fan appeal of firebrand analysts willing to call it like they see it.

Though both brothers clearly have perspectives, that's ultimately what you want from these guys—they're paid to have the opinions, and those opinions bring in viewers. The bolder, the better.

So, if you're attempting to figure out who had the most to lose from Stan's soapbox, your search will probably mirror Jeff Van Gundy's.

This is, after all, already shaping up to be the year of the Lakers. That means it's also the year of Dwight Howard, Stan's former player and current arch nemesis. The championship parade in Los Angeles may not be planned just yet, but David Stern would probably prefer the media not rain on it all the same.

He'd also prefer a minimum of controversy, as Stan himself explained to Chris Sheridan before ESPN cut off talks:

“I wasn’t maybe David Stern’s favorite coach in the league. David likes to control everybody and I would say some things he didn’t like. I’m not looking to be outrageous or say things. I get asked questions, and unfortunately, sometimes, I’ll just say the first thing that pops into my head without really editing myself, and that’s gotten me into trouble at times.”

Of course, neither Van Gundy is the first to describe Stern as something of a tyrant. It's not only his modus operandi—it seems to be a perverse source of pride. The incessant chorus of boos at this summer's draft seemed to only make him stronger. 

The 70-year-old has a way of making any criticism that comes his way sound ridiculous. The mere mention of impropriety has provoked little more than a dismissive, "oh please" attitude. 

As Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski put it, "The NBA’s never known a diva like him, and the owners will make sure it never does again."

Wojnarowksi has never been shy about sticking it to Stern, but you can't say the same for outlets like ESPN. His claim that a number of league executives "suspected that somehow, someway, the Hornets would walk away with [the lottery's first overall pick, Anthony] Davis" didn't receive the kind of attention you'd expect.

The rest of the media treated the matter much like Stern treated it: like business as usual.

Don't be surprised that Van Gundy's situation has been treated much the same way.