The Commissioner Disappears

How David Stern lost his way with the Chris Paul veto.
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I am on the record, proudly and repeatedly, jocking David Stern. I forgive him his trespasses—the man is a jerk who likes to grind blood into the ground, especially when given license to do so by someone else's command—but ultimately remain convinced of his brilliance. After all, he was the one who finally trumped the chain of command and stood up to the owners internally. And let's not forget, he knows as well as anyone that superstars, mega-markets, and dynasties are what makes the league as a whole its cash. His precious overseas outreach? It's been eons since we've heard about a team in China or Europe, or worried about a Euro invasion. Now, it's all about exporting jerseys to Indonesia. The hockey model is dead, or at least reduced to pageantry. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the model small market franchise, but are also run by the inimitable Sam Presti and got to draft Kevin Durant.

David Stern's ideal league includes super-teams that push ratings and hype up into rarefied air and organic, self-made dynamos like the Thunder and Grizzlies--a can't-miss firmament and just enough miracles to keep us interested. At least that's what I would have said before today, when Stern effectively squelched a Lakers super-team that would have given the league an enormous push. Already, Chris Paul (and the prospect of Dwight Howard) joining Kobe Bryant had swept away much of the lockout cobwebs, and that was before the CBA had even been ratified. To let it happen—as he should have, and as he so emphatically did with last summer's Heat assemblage, one with far heavier political overtones—would have been Stern's perfect "fuck you" back at the owners.

Small market teams are the majority, and their narrow interests lorded over lockout talks. Making a professional sports team succeed in a city that doesn't leap off of the map is a challenge, but also a rare opportunity. Giving these teams power, when they should have been contracted or spent the offseason worrying about getting smarter, was an embarrassment for Stern. The one thing that man likes less than losing is idiocy.

Except somehow, Stern was pressured into disallowing the very move that would have allowed him to reclaim the league and, indeed, his legacy. Whether it was the gutless sops like Robert Sarver, foolhardy hacks like Michael Jordan, or that dybbuk Mark Cuban taking advantage of the topsy-turvy climate to keep his 2011 Larry O'Brien Trophy from toppling off his bathroom shelf, the owners got to him again (Editor's Note: Yahoo! Sports reporting that Dan Gilbert was the most vocal. I didn't even want to entertain that possibility.) Stern doesn't serve at their pleasure now in quite the same way he did during the CBA talks. Clearly, he didn't want to risk the appearance of impropriety, what with a team technically controlled by the NBA sending one of the league’s five best players, one practically forgotten by national audiences, to Hollywood. Supposedly, Stern didn't want Paul to pick his destination. Except that would be at odds with everything he said last summer about the Heat, and counter much of what has always made him a canny marketer.

The Lakers are no Team Toast; Chris Paul isn't exactly turning the bonds of friendship and business ties into a basketball operation like a trip to the Knicks would have. Stern doesn't want it to look like he's fine with this sort of thing, lest the owners flip out. He is not in control. The brains behind the operation is no longer running the show. He was caught between two bitterly opposed parties and realized he had to choose a side. Unfortunately, it's one that makes me wonder if he even remembers what once made him great. This is the decision of a much smaller—and less vindictive—man. Stern announced today that this was likely his last CBA. Maybe he recognizes that he's lost a step. He doesn't want to give up the power, when in effect, it's now been stripped from him.


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Comments

Why David Stern is a Genius

http://sportagainstthemachine.blogspot.com/

I wish I had a Dan Gilbert jersey to burn

Stern's been corrupted by Clay Bennett.

Plus wtf is the league going to do with CP3 now? If the Hornets somehow orchestrate (with no leverage whatsoever) a deal to the Knicks, or Celtics, or Heat, will the league approve that? What about the Pacers? Now that they have ruled the Lakers a veto-able team, what teams are acceptable? Don't say the Cavs.

Does the NBA have revenue sharing?

Reading Dan Gilbert's letter protesting the trade (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ys-nba_dan_gilbert_email_lakers_ho...), the objections Gilbert makes to the trade almost sounds reasonable until one realizes how insane it is that the objections of a few owners to the transactions of other teams has precluded teams from conducting a fundamental part of their obligation to fans: making deals to improve future prospects. Talent-wise, the Lakers suddenly look quite thin up front even before a potential Dwight Howard deal; and they also run the risk that Paul could leave after a year b/c he will likely not sign an extension. Stern's power emanated from the unassailable position he once held as the shepherd of the NBA's rise to success and the recognition of the owners and public alike that he was indispensable. His fall from this position to one where he so clearly 'serves at the owner's leisure' is jarring, but also bodes ill for the future of the sport. In a sport like baseball where meddling commissioner's acting on the whims of various owners' interests is a long-standing feature of the game, there is a certain institutional insulation to such chuckle-headed assclownery, because everyone knows that it's a possibility. Basketball, in a business sense, has relatively little experience in this, and so it may genuinely damage the credibility of the sport going forward if there's no guarantee that normal transactions (even with extraordinary talent moving around) can be assured of going through.

Shoals, I also thank you for introducing me to the word 'dybbuk'. How about that?

what i'm wondering now is when he'll retire.

i can't see it happening within the next two years, as he'll likely want some time between this summer's near-disaster and the last years of his legacy, but both sides have six year out clauses in this deal, meaning he'll be 75-ish when that time comes, and i can't imagine he'd like to go through another experience like that again.

it will interesting to see what transpires.

He should veto the trade because he doesn't own them right now - all the other NBA owners do. Why should owners like Mark Cubans of the world (who want to compete) or Herb Brooks-s (who still hold out a hope for the never coming 'competitive balance') force him to veto it? Why should their money go towards putting another superstar on the league's marquee team?

Stern's job is to manage the collective interest of the owners and he did. His failure was not allowing the franchise to be sold when there were potential buyers, thereby creating this quagmire. It was an idiotic move in order to get the sticker price up by allowing a new ownership group to buy into a team with the new, more favorable, CBA rules in place. Except it backfired, because now the Hornets essentially can't make moves.

The Hornets need to trade Chris Paul because he sure as hell ain't resigning, but until they Stern is willing to sell the franchise, it's not likely to happen. And if the club doesn't get solid this year it'll be a disaster, as Paul will leave with no return. Then all that will be for sale will be a team in a non-basketball city not only devoid of a star, but devoid of talent.

So, they're looking out for every small market team EXCEPT the one who was actually doing the deal. Hm.

Exactly. Although this isn't a fantastic trade for the Hornets, they should have the right to get SOMETHING for Chris Paul before he leaves for Free Agency, right? I won't pretend to have the faintest understanding of anti-trust laws, especially in pro sports where things get muddled even further, but the blocking of this move feels very anti-competition to me, even though it's clear that the owners feel the exact opposite.

I'm mostly just bummed because this would've been fantastically fun to watch. Has Kobe ever played with a pure point? Certainly not one of Paul's caliber.

Nick Van Exel was the best one he ever played with I believe. Even as a Kings fan, the aesthetic possibilities were exciting, because it's not just two one-on-one free-throw drawing specialists who have mirrored skill sets like the Heat have. It's Chris Paul with quality teammates. Dude did win two playoff games against LA by himself last year.

It seems to me that David Stern is trying to appease some theoretical neutral pro basketball fanbase that doesn't actually exist.

"If I've lost Shoals, I've lost middle America."