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Friday, December 9, 2011

The United States of David Stern

He is the President; he is the Emperor; he is the King. Since becoming National Basketball Association commissioner in 1984, David Stern has run the NBA his way. Stern has ruled with an iron fist wrapped in silk, for public appearances.

Most fans probably do not care. The league has grown in popularity, exponentially, during Stern’s 28 seasons of leadership. He has been a marketing task master. Revenue has grown. Star power is enormous. Frankly, the product on the court is pretty damn good.

It's good to be king. 1

Stern works for the league owners, and he has made the league owners a lot of money over the years. With continued long term success, Stern has gained entrenchment among the owners and increasing power in running the league. I would argue that Stern’s power is almost unilateral today.

The drawback to this continued success and increased power is that there is potential for abuse. Stern has drawn controversy from decisions he has made in the past, from an imposed dress code to minimum age requirements to enter the league. Regardless, a sound argument could be made for his decisions being in the best interests of the NBA as a whole.

Yesterday, the general managers of the Lakers, Hornets, and Rockets worked out a deal that would have sent Hornets All-Star guard Chris Paul (who can become a free agent after this season) to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Lakers big man Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets. The Hornets would receive Lamar Odom of the Lakers, and Kevin Martin and Luis Scola of the Rockets, in addition to a first round draft pick.

Stern to CP3 and Kobe: "Oh NO. YOU. WON'T!" 4


It sounds fair, right? Everyone is happy, right? WRONG!

Spearheaded, reportedly, by smaller market franchise owners, including Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers, David Stern vetoed the trade on behalf of the Hornets. The Hornets are currently owned by the NBA, seeking a new owner after a sale fell through last year, due in part, to uncertainty over the league’s labor situation. Stern cited, “basketball reasons” for the decision.

Since nobody with an I.Q. greater than a pineapple, not associated with the NBA, believes the deal was unfair to the Hornets (in fact the deal, under the circumstances, was SPECTACULAR for the Bees), there are clearly other motives in voiding the deal. When LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwayne Wade in Miami in 2010, concern was expressed among members of the media, general managers, and owners, about players having too much power…too much leverage. The same reaction happened when Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, dictated to the Nuggets that he would play for the New York Knicks. Star players were determined to play for high profile franchises in big cities.

The tail was wagging the dog. Players were choosing where they would play, in spite of the rules in place, intended to help teams retain their stars. The owners intended to mitigate this situation with the new collective bargaining agreement, ratified just hours before the trade was vetoed.

Don't ditch your Creole Blue and gold, yet, CP3. 3


Perhaps the new rules did not provide the desired end result for Stern and some of the other small market owners. In this case, the star in question, trying to move, played for a team ultimately controlled by Stern. Stern acted in his own best interests, which were to appease smaller market owners, outraged by another superstar dictating his trade destination, a big market destination.

What Stern did not do is act in the best interests of the Hornets, as he is charged. Should Paul leave the Hornets after this season (or choose not to play this season) and the Hornets receive no compensation (such as a perennial All-Star, a top scorer, a solid sixth man, and a first round pick), the Hornets will be effectively bankrupt of player assets. Whatever Stern’s “basketball reasons” were for voiding the trade, they clearly had nothing to do with playing a game of basketball.

The NBA is BACK!!! 2

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