NBA Rule Shuts Down Crybabies: Why David Stern Needs a Mirror, Not a Mute Button

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IOctober 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 03:  NBA Commissioner David Stern talks with the media prior to the start of Game One of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on June 3, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Garnett lifted his arms and chuckled in a muffled, yet comprehensible display of disgust. A rookie official’s errant whistle again set off one of the NBA’s fastest ticking time bombs, and The Big Ticket did all he could to avoid a verbal explosion. Somehow, he stopped his own detonation and another laced-with-profanity tirade.

His restraint was remarkable, as was the egregious nature of the referee’s mistake. The wimpy chest-to-chest bump that resulted in a tweet would not have been an acceptable foul in a peewee high school division. Yet, Garnett’s reaction was deemed too outrageous for this preseason tilt at Madison Square Garden that turned from a pro basketball tune-up to the worst example of deceitful, shameful sports legislation. He was teed up faster than a ball at a NASCAR charity golf event.

Even this, according to league czar David Stern’s new mandate, crossed the line of what ticket-buying spectators can stomach. The commissioner wants fans to believe that his “respect for the game,” crybaby crackdown appeases those fed up with players’ post-foul call performances. The complaining and dramatic acting must stop, Stern says, so the NBA can repair another long-standing image crisis.

Enough with the Oscar bids. How can such a brilliant businessman expect to sell this drivel as a passable response to increased pressure from the club level regulars and the nosebleed everymen?

Faithful followers continued to flood the gates for the high-stakes contests after Stern’s grandstanding episode in the wake of a referee betting scandal. He used all of his sports emperor might and loads of lawyer speak to paint Tim Donaghy as a rogue felon among model citizens. Once again, he protected his beloved zebras from a zoo of skepticism and well-deserved scrutiny.

NBA refs perform a tough, thankless task in trying to officiate some of the finest, fastest athletes on the planet. Criticism, though, should accompany the job description. Instead, Stern has done his darndest to shield and shelter his whistle bearers from the personal-attack tsunamis that drench and destroy his most important employees.

Even Donaghy should not have expected to overshadow a historic 2008 clash between the league’s hallmark, titan franchises. An L.A. Lakers-Boston Celtics Finals was just what Dr. Stern ordered after an FBI investigation threatened to torpedo his game’s credibility—and make no mistake, the association belongs to him. The attorney-turned-commish oversaw a meteoric rise not often accomplished in any sport. He sold Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and then Michael Jordan to a star-hungry nation. Previous non-hoops fans bought NBA stock like frantic investors.

Stern advertised Jordan’s fist bumps and Bird’s famous post-joust remarks—“I thought we played like a bunch of women tonight”—as can’t miss accessories to spellbinding action. Now, he wants to market a passionless KG and an emotionless populous of ballers?

This foul referendum does not pass the smell test. Stern’s All-Star weekend response to Players Association President Billy Hunter’s description of a preliminary new collective bargaining agreement proposal was pure genius. No one skirts a salient question quite like this hardwood highness.

“I don’t want to get into semantics,” he said, when asked if Hunter had indeed ripped up the league’s first rough draft of its expiring constitution.

Stern cannot hide behind his sovereign lawmaking authority or grandstand now. Opponents of this rule do not have their meat wrong. This double serving of baloney comes with a side order of bullshit. Chalk it up to madness, or worse, hysterical blindness. Stern, who chaperones his league’s operations with telescope-like vision, has reached for the wrong flusher. The commode will soon back up, and the commish, the players, and the fans will detest the resulting aroma.

Does he not see what his vile creation will become? This solves an image problem? Get real, David. No man or woman with a college degree should propagate such a farce. Yes, Tim Duncan, one of the league’s consistent competitors and class acts, complained so much in a 2006 playoff series that Del Harris, an opposing assistant coach, pleaded with him to stop. Yes, Garnett has punked every pipsqueak from Jose Calderon to D.J. Augustin. His antics, which include extra-curricular shoves and curse fests that would make a sailor in a gangster rap video blush, sometimes leave the excessive threshold in the dust.

Yet, the same player’s union-New York office filibuster that should kill this beyond excessive answer will beckon Armageddon next summer. The NBA will face a real image problem when a squabble between billionaires and millionaires causes massive layoffs within each franchise and the cancellation of the 2011-2012 season.

Just as Stern allowed Clay Bennett to uproot the Sonics after 41 years in Seattle, he appears ready to let his own ego’s appetite dictate whether teams play any basketball come next October.

No one should have ever demonized Bennett. He did what any prudent businessman would have in a sticky situation. The Seattle City Council and the state’s legislature refused to even consider funding for a new arena, even after all of the city’s other teams, with much less history, received fancy new digs. Also remember this: the final NBA game and victory at Key Arena, the league’s smallest venue, was not a sell out. Bennett sniffed an opportunity to schlep a pro outfit to a sports-crazy state that had proven it would support a basketball squad. Stern allowed Bennett to lie about those emails and his intentions after the purchase.

Some owners insist they would rather not play any games next year if it means one more day under the current system. Stern fined Ted Leonsis after the Washington Wizards owner commented on a potential hard salary cap, but the commish has not reprimanded other bosses who have voiced opinions via back channels.

“That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball,” Roger Daltrey sings in The Who classic Pinball Wizard. Stern just wishes the brewing debacle were as easy to defeat as an arcade game.

He’s deaf. He’s blind. For once, he looks dumb. The usual smartest guy in the room should cease before he embarrasses himself further. If Stern wants to concern himself with image correction, he should think about the hundreds of thousands of NBA associates—ticket takers, concession workers, talent scouts, advance scouts, fringe rotation players, janitors, and ticket sales reps—who stand to beef up a historically dreadful unemployment rate if a lockout ensues. Then, Barack Obama’s approval rating will nosedive into the abyss, as if the much-maligned president needed another gruesome meltdown on his watch.

Stern wants change. He said at his All-Star weekend presser in Dallas that the league has hemorrhaged as much as $400 million per year. The players eat too much of the revenue pie, he said. The owners want a fairer system that affords every team the chance to compete for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.

No one forced Minnesota Timberwolves Owner Glen Taylor to hire GM David Kahn or to fork up $20 million over four years for perpetual loser Darko Milicic. These financially moronic moves do not help the lottery-bound, small-market boys compete with the men in contention. The Lakers may enjoy some nauseating advantages that the ‘Wolves cannot match, but any team, under the current rules, can pull off a Pau Gasol heist if it collects the right assets.

Unless Stern plans to replicate Hollywood in all non-major markets, and unless he plans to force A-list actors and musicians to sit courtside at the FedEx Forum and Target Center, an overhauled CBA will not fix a broken-by-nature association.

The Lakers boast 16 championships, and the L.A. edition secured 11 of those. There will be another Kobe Bryant draftee who forces his way to Hollywood. Role players who yearn for a ring will choose purple and gold any day over a Timberpuppies uniform. If Taylor wants to make more money, he can start by not screwing up the Kevin Love era. Michael Beasley’s addition infuses a defenseless roster with considerable talent and upside. Yes, he can start there.

The San Antonio Spurs’ trophy haul since 1999 shows what is possible when management does not mishandle good fortune. A number of deadbeat, clueless owners could have found a way to mess up the chance to select Duncan with the first overall pick in 1997, 10 years after similar luck allowed the arrival of David Robinson. Peter Holt remains an ownership gold standard.

Hunter has called Stern’s bluff, and the omniscient czar must realize that he cannot bully fans over to his side in this deplorable argument. Casual fans do not want to pick a side. They just want to see some damn basketball. A quicker whistle and more technical fouls, much like the dress code, will not change the minds of racists determined to spew venom at the NBA.

Instead of obsessing about whether player protestations to referees create a negative image in the minds of spectators, he should think of his product’s welfare. In trying to massage his ego and ownership-driven agenda, he has delivered a new rule that could destroy both. Stern sans his authority, much like KG without his fascinating fuse, amounts to a rock concert with no rock music.

No one respects how Stern molded the NBA into a global juggernaut more than me. No one disavows many of the rampant conspiracy theories more than me. Today, though, he’s no pinball wizard. He’s deaf. He’s blind. For once, he looks dumb.

The league, in my estimation, has still not recuperated from the 1999 work stoppage. The shortened season all but sealed the end of Chicago Bulls’ dynasty. Might Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman have saddled up for one more run? Would Phil Jackson have ever become the Lakers’ head coach?

Stern lost viewership in lethal amounts. Former fans walked away from the labor dispute sickened by the greed, and that backlash came during much healthier economic years. The words “budget” and “surplus” were used in the same sentence.

How will hard-working ticket buyers, the nosebleed fanatics in particular, react to another lockout? They scrounge up enough dough to occupy the worst seat in the house once or twice per season to watch the league laughingstocks because they cannot afford to pony up for Laker or Celtic games. Good luck finding any affordable tickets to Miami Heat contests from scalpers, once individual tickets sell out.

A billionaire screaming that his millionaire employees, the reason for the sport, make too much money is the real image problem here. Forget harmless emotive displays after questionable calls. If referees can handle another round of “FBI” and other profane chants from the bleachers, they can survive a few more Garnett outbursts. They would not dare tackle such a tough job without the proper confidence and fortitude.

Maybe when Stern begs the public to see his officials as human beings doing the best they can, he should explore another work stoppage repercussion. Those same refs this rule is supposed to protect will not have jobs next fall, either. Are they hiring in Russia or Italy?

When Euroleague games and a daily escalation of a silly standoff replace the familiarity of hardwood pitter-patter and LeBron James’ jaw-dropping slams, Stern will know the true impact of this cronyism. Instead of scaring players into respecting him again, this mandate will cause fans to reach for the remote and change the channel, or at least, hit the mute button. A CSI rerun or the debauchery on Maury Povich beats the heck out of a labor dispute. Just who the hell wants to watch that?

Sometimes, a genius becomes too smart for his own good. When Stern should stay up late brokering a resolution that prevents ’99 part deux, he instead has enacted a legislative abomination. Stop the Oscar bids. Silence the crybabies. Show some respect for the game. It all sounds lovely, until the truth behind it all squashes the rhetoric.

Why shut down a trolley transporting a few offenders when a freight train with no brakes headed for a cliff, with everyone invested in the NBA aboard, presents the greatest danger to the league’s viability? Stern guided and sold his product with rare acumen and impeccable business smarts, but a grave judgment error has now sent it speeding toward damnation. Worst of all, the commish who watched his prized caboose leave the train station cannot see it running off the tracks, headed straight for the platform-turned pulpit where he now preaches and grandstands.

Someone should give this deaf, blind, and temporarily dumb man a mirror. Then, he can do the right thing and point the remote at himself.


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