There was once a day, not so long ago, that a man sat on top of a throne and was considered the smartest man in sports.
He was a man that had turned the NBA from curiosity to must-see television. He reigned over a new golden era, skillfully and masterfully, and he was always referred to as the "smartest man in the room."
But now those days have come to a close. This man, like so many great leaders before him, has become drunk with power. He has become his own worst enemy!
I'm sure you know the man who I am referring to is David Stern. It's not even a question of which commissioner was the best and smartest during their heyday—it was Stern, hands down.
David accomplished many things in his tenure and the NBA has reaped a mighty profit over his lifetime as the commish. If he doesn't have something named after him when he leaves, it will be stunning.
Stern never had to face an unbeatable union, like most baseball commissioners. Stern never had to battle a Marvin Miller—one of the most important people ever in professional sports. (If you don't know who Marvin Miller is, please read Juicing the Game by Howard Bryant to realize his importance to the game.)
Stern never had many of the problems to face as a Pete Rozelle or Bud Selig had to face. He never saw his owners get convicted of collusion. He never had to deal with extreme payroll disparity in his league. There was never a steroids scandal that baseball had to deal with, or a spying scandal like King Goodell will always be accountable for.
All in all, David Stern had it ridiculously easy as compared to some of his contemporaries. And maybe that's where things went wrong.
Stern never faced real adversity until 2004. He had little things biting at his heels, but nothing like Paul Tags, Goodell or Bud Selig dealt with. Not that any of those three men handled adversity well—especially Selig!
Stern always had the ability of falling back on the accomplishments of Michael Jordan. Jordan helped Stern's reign the way Rommell helped Hitler's.
His Bulls were so tremendous and MJ so unreal that the NBA was certainly blessed with the most dominant team in any sport of the 1990s.
The Bulls could have realistically won 8 rings in a row if it weren't for MJ's "hiatus." Still, six titles in eight years will never be accomplished again. That team was the most dominant team in sports in all of the 90's. Maybe the 1998 Yankees had the best season, but the Bulls were the best team throughout a decade!
But since Jordan left Chicago, David Stern has shown himself to be a man that just doesn't get it.
In 2004, he did what was absolutely necessary to protect his sport and killed the Pacers season for their incident in Detroit. Maybe he should have suspended Ben Wallace for longer than he did, but all in all, it was impressive to see him come out guns blazing and castrate a few thugs and the union all at once.
Many people knew this had to be a hard decision for him, but he did it with mostly a lot of guts and brains. It's a Stern trademark.
Now, fast forward to 2007. There's a horribly called playoff series that also has a brawl where a few people step off of the bench. Stern goes out of his way to talk on air about "the letter of the law," and why people are being punished for their transgressions. Suns fans feel violated, but the pattern is consistent
Then this year, Stern acts completely hypocritically and decides not to suspend Kevin Garnett, when he clearly violated the letter of the law and should have been reprimanded for his actions. Stern looks like a huge hypocrite. I will always think that if KG played for another team, he would have been suspended!
Let's go back to 2007. A commissioner's worst nightmare is staring Stern in the face—a referee was betting on games he was calling. Stern realized quickly that everything he worked for was in jeopardy. All the little things that bit at his heels now seemed to be slowing him down significantly.
Bravely, Stern stands in front of the media and tries to take on the storm on in the best way he can—while still showing absolute power and utter arrogance for everything that is occurring before him. His immense pride takes a few blows, but he comes out mostly unscathed.
I will give Stern credit for how he handled the situation. But many people were left scratching their heads about how horrible the officiating has been in certain playoff games. And one in particular comes back to the forefront. It's arguably the NBA's darkest moment, other than the Malice at the Palace in 2004—Game Six of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Flash forward to June 10, 2008. The game that needed to be buried forever to avoid all the second-guessing by critics and talking heads gets mentioned by Donaghy. All hell breaks loose.
This game is being talked about more than a Celtics-Lakers Finals, the most amazing aspect of all this season. How can such a great season be ruined by horrible memories from six years ago? It's like getting ready to have sex with your girlfriend and she flashes back to a time you got drunk and puked in her hair, says she needs to talk, and your boner dies a horrible death.
The little things that Stern has to deal with up to this point honestly are trivial when compared with the appearance of public mistrust of the officials. (Notice I didn't say throwing games.)
So what that hard fouls are eliminated, that you can't get off the bench to fight, or that teams mail it in at the end of the season to try and get more balls in the lottery? None of that is important when compared to the fact that many casual fans don't trust the product they're seeing on NBA floors.
ESPN recently ran a poll to ask if the most controversial game in NBA Playoffs history was rigged. The vote was yes, by about 76 percent.
Stern needs to fix this problem. Race and hip-hop aren't eroding the league the way bad, controversial officiating is!
And what doesn't help David Stern is that basketball is the easiest for officials to determine the outcome—whether it be extending the season or shaving points—because of the free-throw line.
Stern in the last couple months let an official he suspended for trying to fight a player on the Spurs call an extremely important playoff game. He hypocritically lets KG off the hook. He arrogantly dismisses his foil by trying to discredit him (a lot like the way Roger Clemens and Rusty Hardin dismissed Brian MacNamee.)
Oh yeah, and he's punished anyone who said anything bad about the NBA's refs, making him indirectly complicit in the biggest scandal his sport has ever faced!
I know it's absurd, but maybe David Stern should be called on the carpet by his employers—the owners—and really be held responsible. He needs to tighten up officiating, making them an independent entity not under league control. It honestly would be the best move he's ever made, in a career full of many smart moves.
It would be the most important one, too. Public trust has to be restored. Otherwise, if he doesn't fix this, Stern never really accomplished much!