NBA commissioner David Stern wants you to believe that he works for the fans. His iron-fisted decree before the San Antonio Spurs' 105-100 loss to the Miami Heat on November 29 suggested as much (via Ken Berger of CBSSports.com):
"I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
Stern was upset because Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had the audacity to send home four of his top players—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green—ahead of the nationally televised final leg of the team's six-game, nine-day road trip. In Stern's estimation, Pop's move was an affront to fans, be they casual viewers at home or paying customers at AmericanAirlines Arena, because the product being dispensed was lacking in integrity, or something.
The next day, Stern punished the Spurs with a $250,000 fine, saying in a statement (via SI.com's Ben Golliver):
“The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.
“The Spurs’ actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA."
For the sake of discussion, let's give Stern the benefit of the doubt here. Let's assume that he really does care about the fans, that he's been driven to distraction by the thought of his most valued customers being sold a bill of goods and that fining the Spurs a cool quarter of a million bucks was unequivocally the right move.
If that's the case, then what might he have to say about the Golden State Warriors? Surely, he would have plenty of historical material from which to draw. Or he could offer comment on the team's impending move across the Bay from Oakland to San Francisco.
But while the Warriors, both past and future, have done their long-suffering fans few favors, it's the Warriors of the present whose cynical exploitation of their supporters should pique the vigilant commissioner's interest.
I'm referring, of course, to the team's handling of Andrew Bogut. Golden State swapped a package built around Monta Ellis for the seven-foot center at the trade deadline last season, knowing full well that it would be some time before his troublesome ankle recovered from injury.
Except it appears as though the team undersold the severity of Bogut's bum ankle. He was featured in four of Golden State's first five games this season, averaging 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.3 minutes but hasn't played since November 7. Bogut recently revealed to Rusty Simmons of The San Francisco Chronicle that the surgery he underwent in April was of the more serious microfracture variety, not the minor arthroscopic procedure to "clean out loose particles and bone spurs" that the team suggested it was back in July.
It was Bogut, not the Warriors, who decided to clear the air publicly. Bogut grew tired of trying to explain when he would be back on the floor after the Warriors consistently suggested what turned out to be disingenuous return dates. As he told Simmons:
"It's frustrating. People look at you and think, 'Why are you still hurting? It's just an ankle.' That's the feeling I get sometimes. ... You feel like you're letting down the team, the fans and the organization."
Added Bogut about returning in early December, as the Warriors had intimated he might:
"That's not going to happen. I can tell you that right now. I'm still a little ways off. It's an interesting rehab, because there's no real timeline for it. I'll be back when I'm ready to play at 100 percent."
The next day, Bogut once again held court with Warriors GM Bob Myers by his side, telling the attendant media (via Rusty Simmons):
"We don't want to fool anybody, anymore. We don't want to keep creating a little bit of excitement of, 'Hey, Andrew might be playing Saturday. It might be Monday. He's back.'
"It's enough. It takes a toll on me personally and on the organization. ... It got to the point that we spoke this morning and I said, 'Let's make it an indefinite leave until I'm ready.' There's no point in throwing numbers out there."
Note: the bolding in the above quote is my own and is done for a reason. Bogut's wording there would seem to imply that there had been some effort by the organization to "fool" somebody. Myers, though, insisted that there was no intent to mislead:
"On any injury, I don't think there's any attempt at deception or omission. We convey it how we think it's appropriate. As long as we're on the same page with the athlete per the rules, our focus is on the recovery time. ... I'd like to think we are transparent and always will be."
This, despite having only recently failed to disclose that Brandon Rush, who tore his ACL on November 2, had also torn his MCL and had to delay surgery on his knee as a result. Myers later suggested that knowledge of Bogut's procedure wouldn't have altered the team's original timeline for his return:
"In the overall procedure, the focus wasn't that. We always knew that this was something that may allow him to be ready for the opening of camp. ... There were a lot of components to the injury that made it be a situation that might take a little time, but knowing that element from the get-go didn't change any of expectations and don't to this day."
I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but this sounds to me as though either Myers was fibbing all along, or Golden State's training staff is incompetent enough to equate the recovery times associated with microfracture and arthroscopic surgeries. And frankly, looking back to Bogut's words, this whole situation wreaks of the former.
But why would the Warriors not be forthcoming about Bogut's injury, you ask? Why would they seemingly go out of their way to hide the true nature of their star player's problems?
Might it have anything to do with the fans? Perhaps with convincing them to stick with the team and buy tickets to games?
According to ESPN, the Warriors are 10th in home attendance this season, drawing 18,644 patrons per night. That's actually down slightly from last year's average of 18,857.
But how much lower might that number be if folks in the Bay Area had known how bad Bogut's ankle was from the get-go? How many Warriors fans who paid good money for their tickets now feel cheated for having done so?
It's not much of a reach—if it's a reach at all—to suggest that Golden State's handling of Bogut and its consistent campaign of misinformation was a pernicious ploy to ensure that the fans kept forking over their funds for a faulty product. The Warriors faithful have been looted and lied to, it seems, and, as such, Stern the Protector should step in. If he slapped the Spurs with a $250,000 fine for communicating poorly ahead of one game, imagine how swiftly and heavily he'll sanction the Warriors for what they've done with Bogut...
Except that's never going to happen.
The reason? Money. As in, the Spurs might've cost the NBA by "defacing" a prime-time broadcast and not providing proper notice. The Warriors, on the other hand, might've made money for themselves and the league by perpetuating a false narrative about Bogut.
See, Stern only works for the fans insofar as they represent revenue for himself and the 30 owners on whose behalf he acts. Not that this should come as any sort of shock or that it's necessarily wrong given the nature of his post.
But if Stern is truly a Guardian Angel of NBA Fandom, he would consistently punish those who shortchange the league's supporters.
Like, say, Bob Myers, Peter Guber and Joe Lacob, who have already treated Warriors fans poorly and will continue to do so, as they prepare to move the team from Oakland back to San Francisco in 2017.