NBA Lockout: David Stern Keeps NBA Open for Bad Business

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJuly 20, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30:  Commissioner of the NBA, David Stern announces that a lockout will go ahead as NBA labor negotiations break down at Omni Hotel on June 30, 2011 in New York City. The NBA has locked out the players after they were unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The current CBA is due to expire tonight at midnight.    (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

One year after LeBron James’ brainless, hubris-filled television special, the NBA’s brain trust somehow managed to deliver an even more pitiable image to screens across America Tuesday afternoon.

Instead of creating a wildfire-like buzz, this sparsely viewed, made-for-stupidity special amounted to a half-hour buzzkill.

Poor ol’ studio host Matt Winer, accompanied by role players-turned-analysts Steve Smith and Antonio Davis, soldiered through the pointless exercise of unveiling a schedule that commissioner David Stern may cancel in a few months. Winer put on his dirty-job boots and trudged through a mile-high river of slime.

The Ghostbusters cannot save the day in this nightmare scenario.

The league boss’ unfathomable incompetence in the sport’s darkest hour threatens to leave behind the paying customers to drown. The showcase athletes have threatened to hop the pond en masse and several ballsy owners would rather purchase their employees’ plane tickets than play one more game under the current collective bargaining agreement rules.

It has come to this for the fans, the folks Stern should consider most in a labor dispute: Enjoy dreaming about the Christmas Day finals rematch, but prepare to watch some god-awful '80s music infomercial or a Disney movie Dec. 25 instead of the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat.

The players and owners remain as far apart in negotiations as the Golden Gate Bridge and Statue of Liberty. Stern’s remedy has been to punish the supporters who afforded him a championship-series ratings blitz by pretending the clash never happened.

Forget about Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Screw Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Make sure Rick Carlisle and Donnie Nelson keep their traps shut. This work stoppage is above their pay grade—as if a labor impasse can dictate the best persons to speak on a subject.

Portland Trail Blazers GM Chris Buchanan said “yeah” when asked if the New York office canceling the annual Las Vegas Summer League was a bummer. Officials retaliated for this innocent, harmless, monosyllabic remark by wagging a $1 million fine his way. It doesn’t matter that Buchanan escaped this frivolous scandal with his bank account intact.

Stern has lost his mind and his business sense. This mess goes far beyond enforcing necessary regulations when there is no signed document to govern daily operations. No one forced the association’s wannabe mob bosses to stoop to this level.

Somewhere above the NBA’s wreckage, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is laughing his stealth all the way to the nearest Chase branch.

Football’s players and owners will soon settle their candy-assed dispute in time to avoid slashing any exhibition contests. The Hall of Fame joust in Canton may become the lockout’s lone casualty, and who the hell outside of Ohio gives a flip about that meaningless snooze-fest?

Goodell has lapped Stern in the PR department because of how his league has continued to market its current talent pool, despite a labor disagreement. No law prohibits the NBA from advertising James or Kobe Bryant on the home page. No court has ever ruled that cannot feature images and video highlights of Manu Ginobili while owner Peter Holt pushes for an agreement more favorable to his San Antonio franchise’s spending ceiling.

No one can dispute that too many clubs are hemorrhaging money, even if the number of teams in the red is probably closer to eight than 22. It is hard to believe a sport that claims it lost more than $1 billion in six years could stay afloat. The system, though, needs serious tweaks—maybe an overhaul. All owners deserve the chance to make a profit.

Yet, this is not the way to conduct affairs while each side tries to posture the other into submission.

The NFL Network aired an aimless series on the previous season’s top 100 players. The football crazies still turned up and tuned in to see the list. Houston Texans sideline chief Gary Kubiak has been able to talk for months about how his team might improve with Wade Phillips helming the defense and young cornerback Kareem Jackson another year wiser. Kubiak cannot tutor players in workouts, but he can mention them without fearing Goodell will liquidate his life savings by levying a massive fine.

Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn mentioned Ricky Rubio by name—how dare he—in a press conference about Kurt Rambis’ dismissal as head coach. A Webmaster deleted that segment of the interview from the site hours after it was posted.

Sales departments must still sell season tickets for a slate in jeopardy. Thanks to this irresponsible, say-no-to-proper-nouns embargo, the brokers cannot mention any of that organization’s players in the conversation. Please give us several thousand bucks to watch some anonymous, fictitious guys shoot a round ball. Who could lose with such an inspired pitch?

The work stoppage necessitated that schedule-makers devise a calendar earlier than usual. Did the NBA have to release it via a humiliating television presentation? Why not keep it hidden, like Carlisle did Jason Terry's mythical defense?

Winer framed the show as a “party” and an “optimistic exercise,” but it felt more like a misplaced middle finger. Stern’s unwise decision-making has put so many prominent staff members in these unflattering, embarrassing situations.

He has become the raunchy stand-up comedian crashing a funeral. He’s the pyromaniac about to burn his own house to the ground.

He chaperoned the NBA’s rise from a fast-breaking juggernaut to a global power. He sold Magic, Larry and Michael. He capitalized on Showtime, Phil Jackson and several generations worth of the planet’s best athletes. No commissioner has ever done more to further a professional sport.

Why, then, on the day Yao Ming made his retirement from hoops official, does Stern look like the mad man willing to torch it all for the insurance money? Fans cannot partake in that small pot of cash.

An exhilarating finals and the billion-or-so Yao attracted to TV sets around China should have spurred better business practices.

Instead, Stern has undressed himself with his own lunacy. Soon, he’ll be the Emperor With No Clothes, and his bloodthirsty peers will cheer the sordid sight of a naked man with dwindling dignity trying to climb a kerosene-drenched rope to safety.

It makes sense to forbid practice-related contact between players and coaches. No one can begrudge the league for denying Pau Gasol access to his team’s facility in El Segundo, California. This is, after all, a work stoppage.

Just don’t mock fans by unveiling a schedule the 30 squads might not play. Don’t insult fans by forcing them to watch an aging Michael Jordan try a clumsy, one-handed dunk at a basketball camp. The page’s lead headline read “He’s Still Got It.” Give me a break.

Don’t erase the evidence of the terrific 2010-2011 campaign that culminated with Nowitzki hoisting his first Larry O’Brien Trophy.

This isn’t about exposing younger followers to Bernard King or Artis Gilmore. The NBA can celebrate those past greats without shunning today’s All-Stars.

Where are the season-recap specials? How about stealing the NFL Network’s cheap idea? Sell something. Sell anything other than false hope and unforced invisibility.

Stop the threat of senseless fines. Stop running away from Kobe and LeBron like there’s nothing to lose.

Daryl Morey should not need permission to speak at Yao Ming’s retirement presser. A GM gets paid to discuss and evaluate the players on his roster. How could paying homage to a gentle giant plagued by misfortune damage stagnant CBA negotiations?

Restore’s writer archives and stop using them and other loyal company men and women as a restroom.

None of these tactics was ever going to scare players back to the bargaining table, just like Deron Williams trotting to Turkey will not cause the owners to blink.

The labor parties will act with more urgency when the immense financial loss looms larger. Expect substantive discussions to re-commence in September or October. Training camps and the preseason itinerary will go first.

The goal then becomes salvaging as many dates as possible.

What should matter now is protecting the brand from the negativity and vitriol that many supporters harbor during a lockout. A minimum-wage worker does not want to watch millionaires and billionaires squabble.

The stripped emperor has only made it worse.

The NBA needs a resolute, slick leader in these dark times. Instead, Stern has commandeered his sinking ship like a captain resigned to a slow, painful death. The man who made the league’s success possible is now in his own way.

Shoving aside reason and tactful salesmanship, Stern is the near-naked ruler stuck in a septic tank instead of wielding a scepter.

Move over, LeBron. Tuesday brought discomfiture and it gets much worse from here.


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