Dismal David Maims His League

In regards to the lockout, the commissioner said, “The less coverage, the better.” He said it on a nationally syndicated radio program.

The less coverage, the better. But David Stern is on my TV. And my radio. He’s talking to the house organ, to one of the Mikes–but not one of those “Mike and Mike” Mikes. Wait, never mind, he spoke to those Mikes as well. Dan Patrick gets a healthy dose of David. It was Dan, to whom David chirped “The less coverage, the better.” That ironic comment was tethered to another: “Oh, we’d be happy to not have (the lockout) covered at all.”

My head is inundated with the commissioner’s lockout lobbying. Like a horror movie protagonist who stumbles into a smoky room of funhouse mirrors, I’m surrounded by David Stern distortions. Feinting this way and that, he’s toying with me from angles oblique, smugly cackling while smudging my brain folds. Before I know it, I’m mumbling “You can’t revenue share your way to profitability,” in a lobotomized drone, to a highly-offended homeless man.

NBA PR’s approach is reflexive, dogged. React to criticism, address it with near violent vigor. Destroy the enemy. Win the narrative. Doth protest more than too much, so much that it erases all memory of whatever you’re protesting.

Stern is the ideal instrument of the PR apparatus that grew beneath his fists. Like his minions, he’s confrontational, responsive and ubiquitous. But Stern is able to do this respectably, by the grace of quick wits and self-effacing comedic touch. Stern won’t hide. The former lawyer will present his case, and those bastards will feel his wrath. This makes other commissioners seem coy by comparison. This makes David Stern seem bigger than a mere commissioner.

So, David Stern may well win the public relations fight against these players. He has the bully pulpit, and much cachet as the smartest guy in the room. It helps that casual fans are predisposed to jealously loath NBA players.

When asked “Why should the players get punished?” Stern slyly flaunts the common man’s plight:

“If that’s punishment in this environment and this economy, with mortgage failures and unemployment, and the concerns that everyone has, then, you can call it what you like.”

If you’re the casual fan, perhaps you call “that” greed. Coddling. The root of what’s wrong with this country. It smacks of Patrick Ewing, saying, “Sure, we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too.” How terrible.

And maybe you decide that you’re just sick of pro basketball.

This is my concern. David Stern is playing to the casual fan, by making that fan dislike the NBA player. Players might be “the enemy” here, but Stern will soon be marketing that enemy. And once resentment is stoked, can Stern easily reverse the process?

Hey remember those rich whiners who carp about cash when the recession’s destroying your meager dreams? Time to feel good about em’! Here’s Dwight Howard, hugging sick children!

I’m not usually one to give PR advice, but I have an odd stake in this. I root for the NBA to conquer all. Basketball is beautiful, expressive, inspiring. And a wonderful sport is lifted for having more viewers. As in, what would the World Cup be without The World?

I don’t want the NBA to go through another 2000’s lull. After the 1999 lockout, fans were incensed, and ratings dropped for three consecutive years. We refer to this interest decline as the “the post-Jordan era,” but we could also call it the “post-lockout era.” In the 2000’s, pro basketball dipped below pre-Jordan relevance. A 1989 Pistons-Lakers Finals notched a 15.1 TV rating. In 2004, the same series garnered an 11.5 number. Basketball waned, eventually bottoming out at a 6.2-rated NBA Finals in 2007. I’m not sure how much of that free fall can be attributable to MJ’s absence, awesome as he was. Labor stoppages tend to kill fan interest.

I don’t blame David Stern for the lockout. In these matters, a commissioner is little more than a glorified waiter, serving the owners with whatever deal they request. But Stern deserves copious blame for fanning the flames of anti-NBA sentiment. In his (probable) CBA swan song, he’s a walking, whining anti-NBA Cares ad.

The players are being greedy, intransigent, stupid, insensitive. Buy (future) tickets!

The CBA isn’t American Idol, nobody is voting on the outcome. The commissioner simply does not have to shift public sentiment against the athletes. While many observers view the media blitz as some 12-dimensional chess move (He’s doing it to scare players via their family members who watch TV!), I’m not so sure. We sometimes cast too much faith in intelligent authority figures. It is just as possible that Stern is doing this out of ego, out of frustration, or out of ingrained NBA PR reflex. It is just as possible that a man who oversaw the NBA’s post-Jordan decline, a sputtering women’s league, Seattle’s departure, a tainted Suns-Spurs playoff series…might not be a very good commissioner–at least anymore.

Soon, the lockout will be settled, and it likely will have nothing to do with David and his bullhorn. But his negative ad campaign may linger. The less David Stern, the better.

Related posts:

  1. David Stern’s Business Tats
  2. Goodman League vs. Drew League wrap-up: notes from Northeast DC
  3. Nowhere Fast: The David Kahn Story
  4. Lockout: The TV Problem
  5. 2016: How much TV money will the NBA be making?


  1. [...] and full maracas. A commissioner’s job is broadly defined, and if you rip Stern for failure in one aspect, you’re bound to hear that his real job is devoted to serving another [...]

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