In 1984, Michael Jordan was drafted and David Stern became NBA commissioner. The year after Jordan retired, the NBA went on strike. It has not been the same since.
Stern is just like the Chicago Bulls—nothing without Jordan. Since Jordan left the league, fans have been looking for the next superstar to bring the league back to prominence.
First it was Shaquille O'Neal, but his game was so much different than Jordan's.
Then it was Tim Duncan, but he lacked Jordan's flair.
Allen Iverson was too much of a thug.
So the NBA turned to Kobe Bryant, but then he forgot to call an escort and had sex with the bell girl.
Now the success of the NBA is pinned on the shoulders of LeBron James. But he plays in Cleveland, a small market city with a poor economy. Stern has to be praying LeBron lands in New York when his contract is up after the 2010 season.
Stern has been called a great commissioner by many, but he isn't.
He inherited a league of stars: Magic, Bird, Dr. J, Jordan, Barkley, Olajuwon, Abdul- Jabbar, Worthy, Stockton, Malone, Isiah. Now that all these guys are retired, Stern is as confused as your neighborhood mutt, wondering what to do and where to go.
Before Jordan retired in 1998, the NBA was a first-rate league in American sports, equal to the NFL, greater than MLB. Now it's on the verge of being equal to the NHL.
Many NBA pundits and former NBA players have blamed the new generation of players. Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan have ridiculed players for being too close to hip-hop culture, bringing their posse to games, wearing braids and tattoos. After the Ron Artest incident, Rush Limbaugh said he had no desire to watch the NBA because, "all the players are ignorant thugs."
The "thugs" excuse is bogus. The NFL is full of thugs. Every year, players get indicted and convicted, often in connection with shootings. Think Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, and Pacman Jones. This hasn't hurt NFL ratings or attendance. Americans don't seem to mind watching hardcore gang bangers on Sunday, of all days.
Allen Iverson once said, "It's a shame that the NBA does not know the reality of their superstars. It is true that most NBA players come from the ghetto, but basketball players are corny individuals."
I agree, having played basketball in high school and knowing guys who have gone on to play Division I basketball and in the NBA. Basketball players, for the most part, are corny guys, momma's boys, who wouldn't harm a fly.
Thuggery isn't to blame for the NBA's decline. David Stern's decisions are.
Here are some examples of Stern's missteps:
Stern was adamant about creating salary cap after Kevin Garnett received a six-year contract extension worth $126 million after only three years in the league. The cap does not allow teams to develop into dynasties. Neither does it allow players to go to the team of their choice, via trade or free agency. All player movement is based on the cap.
MLB has been able to overcome the steroid era because there is no salary cap. Teams in baseball are able to get whatever player they want when they want, as long as they can afford it.
The average NFL career lasts only three years, so a cap is necessary to protect each franchise financially. However, in the NFL, first-round picks are allowed to rake in the big bucks. Rookies sometimes sign six to eight year deals worth $30 to $40 million in guaranteed money.
In the NBA, you're allowed to sign rookies drafted in the first round to maximums of three or four years worth $10 to $15 million.
The NBA is like MLB, with the average career lasting ten years. So why is a salary cap necessary?
Maybe without a cap, Stern would not be so eager to get LeBron in a Knicks uniform. The Knicks have the capital to run up a $100 million roster, but the cap limits them to $56 million unless they're willing to pay a luxury tax.
Stern's worst actions involve changing the rules.
The NBA has been transformed into a girly sport. Guys like Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Kevin McHale, and Dennis Rodman were ten times tougher than the toughest guy in the league today. However, if they played today, they would get suspended night in and night out for rough play. Players are not even allowed to hand-check anymore.
Permitting teams to play zone also was foolish. It only leads to teams shooting jump shots all day. The same goes for creating the three-point shot. Teams fall in love with long jump shots, which makes the game boring. Driving to the basket is what fans prefer to see.
Who is to blame for the sinking revenues in the NBA? The guy who has been in charge through all of these changes. It's time for him to move on.
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