The Trial of David Stern

David Stern is quite the moving target these days. If he does anything untoward, people lament how the “owners pushed him into it,” how “the old David wouldn’t have caved.” Oh, if only they’d let DS do him!

While not privy to secrets, I tend to buy that David Stern does what he wants. He’s famously headstrong, to his credit in many instances. The CBA is signed, Stern’s inching towards retirement, why would he be at the mercy of others? Why not give him the dignity of owning his power?

But even after you give David agency, he shimmies away from indictment like a salsa dancing diplomat–with full immunity 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 realm.

Look you naive sap, Stern’s real job is to serve BRI hors d’oeuvres at the NBA owner cocktail social. Basketball’s popularity means little to this platter-wielding bowtie.

Eventually, it all devolves into basketball geeks attempting to out-savvy each other, each one yawning louder and longer before unveiling the “real” realpolitik behind David Stern’s micro management of macro situations. I have heard a similar logic line in response to recent CP3 events.

Yo, naive sap, Stern’s real job is to sell the Hornets to some swollen-pocketed yokel. He’s stripping the bark off the team, PR means little to him.

I can believe that a team sale is a consideration here, and perhaps the main attribution considering the Rockets-Lakers trade price tag. I repeat: I can believe this. It is just as likely that Stern merely wants to punish Chris Paul for flouting the spirit of this new CBA, or that Stern dislikes the optics of a big market cashing in on cachet. A confluence of all three reasons could fit the bill. Since this league comports itself with such imperious opacity, I see no reason to scramble for the most benign excuse on its behalf. All of these possibilities are equal, so long as they hide behind the fuzzy “basketball reasons” curtain.

But let us examine the favored trope of the day, the idea that Stern is mucking trades on behalf of a future team sale. Here is what I don’t understand: Why is this better than David Stern rigging the game against or for Jerry Buss?

So, David Stern is theoretically immune from criticism because he’s taking what should be a competitive basketball team and holding a firesale? And he’s favoring draft picks over playoffs in what could be construed as a commissioner-orchestrated tank job?

Perhaps such a ploy is ethically acceptable, but I’m not even sure it’s prudent. Per that concern, here are questions:

1. Would not advantages gleaned from stalling CP3′s exit be outweighed by the disadvantage of scaring prospective team buyers? Nothing screams “Join us!” quite like flaunted mismanagement and conflict of interest entanglements. I suspect Prokhorov is running for Russian president because it seems like a lark compared to navigating the cryptosocialist NBA snake pit.

2. Could not the assets from that Rockets-Lakers trade be easily flipped for cheaper, younger assets? It is not as though Scola, Martin, and Odom were bound to serve lifetime on the New Orleans Hornets Supreme Court. Or is that in the new CBA, near the “Parity means every team gets a fake Chris Paul trade” section?

3. Ultimately, how much does the NOH sale even matter? If this franchise is swapped for a whopping 100 million less than the NBA expected, that roughly represents 3.4 million bucks less per owner. This is less than Charlie Bell’s amnestied 2011 salary, and many writers were aghast that GSW would burn the exception on such a piddling sum. Is gilding this small market sale really worth a lurch into a protracted public circus? Is that pennywise and pound foolish to Donald Sterling levels?

For all I know, David Stern has a billionaire on his shoulder, demanding a specific rebuilding plan. For all I know, this crazy billionaire wants Chris Paul on the squad. For all I know.

I will never know why David Stern descended from the rafters to undo a trade that millions had already reacted to. I will never know why David Stern blocked the NBA’s biggest brand from trying to assemble a potentially mesmerizing CP3-Kobe-D12 nucleus. I will never know why he foot drags through current negotiations with the Clippers. Those justifications are ensconced between Stern’s grey temples, and when he opens his mouth, only grains of salt pour over his lips.

If the attribution is unknowable, I can only judge the ugly result. It amounts to a league embarrassment (CP3 untrade) that spotlights a league embarrassment (a potemkin team). I try to say, “Damn the PR,” and assess on the basis of truth. But David Stern’s shtick is so steeped in PR, that I think it’s only fair to judge by that ruler. This fiasco makes the league look foolish, jealously fractured, even corrupt–which matters more than the inscrutable “why.”

Now more than ever, my reverence reserves are in low supply when it comes to David Stern. To an older generation, he represents Magic, Larry, and MJ. Obviously, he deserves much credit for shepherding the league to that apogee. But to my memory, Stern is Knicks-Heat playoff meddling, WNBA schlock, Suns-Spurs playoff meddling, Donaghy, Sonics, two lockouts, and this current CP3 mess. Perhaps some magic reason absolves him from the latest unsavory meddle. At this point, I don’t care. At this point, I think someone else should be commissioner.


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  2. Dismal David Maims His League
  3. David Stern’s Business Tats
  4. HoopSpeak Live: Kobe, Rodman, and Stern
  5. Even with a balky knee, can David take down Goliath?
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