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.

HoopSpeak Network

Glad to see this CBA rejected

Love professional basketball. So I don’t cheer the suspension of it–not in the abstract. The thought of a hoopsless year is an injection of Liquid Plumbr to my spleen via the longest hypodermic.But ever so strangely, I love that the players sent an ominous disclaimer of interest, a letter that has us gnawing three-eyed rats in the post apocalyptic NBA nuclear winter (Party at my dung shanty, bring your own lizard jerky!). Much to my chagrin, I cheer a decision that rejects playing now in favor of possibly playing a year from now. So what gives? Am I a crazy person, prone to decertifying my own wants? Do I often gargle sand when thirsty?

It’s just that my love of basketball causes me to root for the sport itself, causes me to root against an owner proposal that would prevent America’s greatest game from claiming its rightful throne. If this player ploy can possibly stave off harmful changes to the NBA, I’m all for prolonging the nothing. Though “We want games now!” has discourse primacy over “But how will this change the league?,” I reject that pecking order. A lost year hurts, but a lost league can sap enthusiasm far into the horizon.

Specifically, I object to this: “Annual raises. The NBA proposed 6.5% for players with Bird rights — allowing a club to sign its free agents for more money and for more years than other clubs — and 3.5% for others, down from 10.5% and 8% in the last CBA but up from the offer on the table Wednesday.”

And this:

“Also, contract options will be banned for the highest-paid players (unless they agree to a nonguaranteed final year), further eroding their leverage.”

The deal includes a 12% reduction in the already absurdly low rookie wage scale and a probable raising of the immoral age limit. But I’ll focus on player movement for now.

Proposed reforms are geared towards preventing a repeat of the 2010 free agent bonanza that sparked so much interest from fans (the horror!). The financial hit for spurning a Gilbert will be prohibitively immense going forward. These new rules aim to be the quicksand that snares a superstar–which is peachy if you’re a bad owner in a small market.

But for fans? Well, the trade deadline should lose some verve. Same goes for the recently thrilling free agent Summer break. No more soccer-esque “transfer season” excitement for hoops.

Though some bemoan the inchoate era of superstar agency, it’s been…interesting. “Who goes where?” is a constant source of Internet fodder, an endless supply of intrigue. Recent player movement has rejuvenated a league so bizarrely wedded to the idea of superstar settling. I’ve never quite understood David Stern’s obsession with housecatting elite players. So Reggie Miller played two decades in humble Indy. So what? Does the league want a cookie for that? Because Reggie’s long tenure sure didn’t ensure the NBA’s continued local popularity.


Were you inspired by KG’s Minnesota futility? Does a mired Chris Paul bring a smile to your ears? Does your heart flutter at the thought of Blake Griffin piling up losses for a sneering Donald Sterling?

I would hazard that it’s depressing to watch a star toil in ruin. Codify these owner-proposed reforms into league law, and risk an era of moping talent, playing for no stakes, before few fans, in perpetuity. Does this sound like a net-positive for the NBA? While many shudder at the thought of players racing for greener pastures, I prefer a league where the best guys a) Play for winners and/or b) Play where the people live.

To the small marketeers, I say: If you build it, they will stay. Tim Duncan had little reason to leave San Antonio, and Kevin Durant likely won’t ditch OKC for a better nightlife. Loyalty is the reward for good stewardship.

This CBA proposal seems devoted to protecting the dumbest owner rather than rewarding the smartest one, and the emphasis on insulating every owner from risk equals a bad risk for their league. Basketball is weighed down by leaden training wheels unless the players can garner a different deal.

NBA owners: it’s not about you, and never will be

All along we’ve heard that David Stern, more than anything, just wants a deal. Though hardline owners have at times stood in the way of rationality, it’s not hard to imagine Stern shaking his head sadly before donning his regretful toad expression and delivering ultimatums to the players union and media. This weekend Stern took to the airwaves and Twitterverse to convey one message: the owners have made their final deal, and now whether or not there is a season is in the players’ hands.

It’s fair to assume that the players know, despite the precedent of unenforced ultimatums, a significantly improved offer is unlikely to come further down the road, and that the ability to play 72 games lessens the financial impact of the lockout.

However there are two major impediments to the players taking this deal, one is that it’s just way less money than they used to make, a 12% decrease in their share of NBA BRI. That hurts, but the other issue, one that appears to be just as serious, is pride. The players have been in a defensive posture from the beginning, and swallowing a paycut hurts a lot more when it’s jammed down your throat along with new policies that curtail players’ ability to choose where they play, and artificially depreciate their value.

Somehow, the NBA has been successful in consistently extracting monetary concessions, but it has been far less tactful in its push to gain “systemic changes.”

David Stern’s PR blitz this weekend was especially repugnant, as he framed the impasse as, essentially, a consequence of players who don’t know what’s best for them being manipulated by evil agents: “I just think that the players aren’t getting the information, the true information from their agents, who are banding together, sort of the coalition of the greedy and the mendacious, to do whatever they can not to have fewer opportunities for the agents to make money.”

The condescension is palpable. This line speaks to a real and disheartening gap between how owners see players and the reality of the league. Stern’s stance preys on an ugly assumption that for all the physical gifts that NBA players have, they lack the intellectual capacity to understand their best interest.

This isn’t racism per se, but it evokes a certain paradigm–these rich black guys don’t know how good they got it—that’s hard to mistake and for the players, must be harder to stomach.

The question is: why would Stern and the owners take the angle, knowing that it can do little but inflame the pride of the players? I suspect that the autonomy of star players: exercising their actual market value not in pay, but in influence over where they play, and with whom, is at the heart of the owners’ demands for system changes.

Surely these so called system issues matter, and will impact the league, but when Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver wax holy about the bright future of 30 contenders and stars that stay in one city for their whole careers, it smacks of intellectual dishonesty. How could anyone in their positions entirely misunderstand the explosion in NBA interest that LeBron’s free agency occasioned?

That heartache in Cleveland and the scandal in Miami didn’t dent the league’s reputation, far from it! Any blogger or columnist knows that LeBron is a hot button topic because of the drama surrounding how he chose where to work. James is, by and large, a fairly boring and opaque character off the court, but the Decision infused life into his mannequin-like personality.

The NBA has and always will thrive on individual personalities. The system changes proposed by the NBA—namely those designed to restrict player movement and discourage the best players from switching teams even after they have fulfilled their contract with their current team—contradicts the NBA’s best interest by decreasing the power and agency of the league’s most compelling characters.

If the goal of the league truly is to grow, it must recognize that national drama created by player movement is a crucial part of building a national TV audience, the obvious prerequisite to the type of national broadcast rights deals that can fatten the wallets of even slouching, self-destructive franchises (of which there will always be plenty so long as owners continue to hire and overpay undeserving front office personnel).

No, this oak-headed insistence on “systemic improvement” is not for the good of the league or its bottom line, though it gives owners a sense of control, however illusory it may be. Unlike NBA players, who have earned the right to call themselves the best in the world, NBA owners have no basis to believe in their merit as franchise operators other than the possession of the wealth requisite to purchase a team.

But the ultimatums, threats and public rhetoric all implies a desire to deny this dynamic and diminish the agency of the true stars of the NBA.

No matter if the owners get everything they want, the NBA will remain a players’ league. The ultimate motivation of this systemic tinkering is to augment owner cash and control; its ultimate consequence a decrease in drama, interest, and dollars.

NBA risks hurting its next national TV deals

Let’s say you’re TNT.

You’ve aligned your brand with the world’s hippest sports league at a historic high in product quality. You are thrilled that “The Closer” is advertised along with vibrant nightly discussions over who is the best on-court closer. A couple times a week—more during the most watched weeks of the season–you receive a massive influx of live viewers on whom you foist commercials for your series with mind-numbing regularity.

What’s even better is that you’re getting this great product on the cheap, because the advertising you’re earning easily outpaces the cost of the programming.

Then the league locks out.

Now, not only do you have replace this incredibly valuable and cost-efficient programming with re-runs that (relatively) no one will watch, you have to explain this to your advertisers: companies that paid a pretty penny to align their brand with a hard to reach, web-savvy, DVR-enslaved demographic.

According to Adage, you were able to bump some of those advertisers to the MLB playoffs, but most are simply hung out to dry. This whole lockout business is, by any measure, a major bummer for you (“you” are still TNT). If the lockout lasts all year, and torches 40 Games in 40 Nights and the NBA Playoffs on TNT, you are going to feel like a parent who finds outs his kid isn’t going to college next year because instead of sending in applications he just took a dump in an envelope and sent it off.

Fast forward four years, and you’re negotiating with the NBA over new TV rights. The league, as Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant enter their primes and a bald LeBron James hits the twilight of his best years, is still piping hot. Juwan Howard and Kurt Thomas are somehow still in the league, but otherwise things are good.

As such, the NBA asks for top dollar for the right to broadcast its games. But you remember when you were utterly hosed by a colossally idiotic stalemate between owners and players back in 2011. You may even remember 1999. You consider that players have been restless in the media, agitating about “setting things right in the next CBA,” which comes up in three years.

You wonder if you trust the owners to deliver a full season, or will the league’s ongoing labor strife cause, for the third time in twenty years, a work stoppage?

So you (now you get to be both ESPN/ABC and TNT!) lowball the league (as you did in the 2007 TV deal). The NBA, with few other suitors, takes your money, something like $500 million less per season than the programming is worth. So instead of paying $900 million to provide $1.2 billion in ad revenue, in 2015 you pay the NBA $1.4 billion to provide you with $1.9 billion worth of ad revenues.

OK, you can stop being an acronym now.

This lockout is, roughly speaking, the result of small market owners doing whatever they can to make it easier to profit year-to-year while fielding a strong team. Along with depressed salaries, serious revenue sharing can accomplish some of that goal. The easiest revenue to share is national TV revenue. That’s because then owners in awesome markets don’t have to feel like they are covering the cost of small or weak (or both) markets with their own earnings.

But what if locking out this year, and the damage it does to major TV partners, depresses the value of the league to these broadcasters in the future? If small markets benefit most from national TV deals (that may be debatable because markets that don’t draw a national audience; New Orleans never get on TV), they could be taking at least as much, if not more, money off the table in terms of future TV deals than they can gain by lowering player salaries by seven million dollars per team each year.

When the NBA sells tickets, league pass and NBA TV to its fans, there’s an indirect negotiation at work: either fans say “that’s too much” and the league does or doesn’t adjust, or the cost of being a fan is deemed acceptable by both sides. But TNT, ESPN/ABC and perhaps NBC (can we bring back some weekend hoops on NBC?!) will be negotiating directly with the NBA. And even after a few awesome seasons of riveting storylines and exceptional play, their corporate memories will be far more likely to recall this current lockout than the collective memory of NBA fans will after the “Durant-LeBron Round II” 2015 Finals.

We worry about whether the NBA will turn off the casual fan. (An aside: if a fan is casual, doesn’t that mean he or she is more likely to return to the NBA if the product is still good? They don’t get too bent out of shape about the lockout. That’s the point of being a casual fan, right?). But perhaps the league should be more concerned about hurting broadcast partners with the power to dramatically increase the percentage of league revenues that come from easily shared national TV rights.

HoopSpeak Live Ep 24: Tom Haberstroh and Matt Steinmetz

Today’s guests:

Tom Haberstroh of’s TrueHoop, Heat Index and Insider
Matt Steinmetz of CSN Bay Area.

To submit text questions: just sign in and ask away!

To video chat with us and our guests: Find a spot without too much background noise, sign in, fire up the web cam, and be sure to have your headphones (to eliminate echo)!

If you have trouble viewing the show on HoopSpeak, you can also try watching on Vokle.

Street Gawking & Copters

This post is also up on WarriorsWorld. Spam in the guise of cross pollination.

I’m not sure how to connect this to basketball other than to say: Meant to write about Scott Rabb and Rajon Rondo…got a little bit sidetracked on account of the mass chaos outside my place.

When I left work, the plan was to bury myself in a laptop, knock out a post or two, perhaps the elliptical, then bed. Wake up the next morning, make Aeropress coffee, snatch the work photo ID from the abalone shell, grab the keys off the magnetic strip, can’t forget those…I’ve already found comforting routine in this incohate yuppiedom. I am a boring song on loop.

But when I left work in San Francisco, a disruptive force awaited in Oakland.

I got off at my 14th street Bart stop to the sound of low-flying helicopters. The station is next to Frank Ogawa Plaza, where Occupy Oakland tents had been multiplying. Had been. Police flushed that area the night before amid some uproar. But now, Hazmat bedecked aliens are simply cleaning this vacant square, behind a phalanx of Oakland PD officers.

(It’s all so…quiet.)

I walk down an eerily silent 14th, passing more cops than I’ve ever seen on one street. In their black plastic riot gear, they look like Made in China action figures come to life…or futuristic Buckingham Palace guards, sartorially darkened for King Harry’s funeral. The helicopters seem to track, and then, predict my path. The paradigm for rioting is certainly set.

Copters waft towards the library next to my apartment, and where protesters have congregated. Twitter speaks of a gathering outside the plaza, and suddenly, my feet are carrying me back from whence. Helicopters follow. Five of them.

Suddenly, the streets are swollen with humans, drifting towards the Frank Ogawa Plaza barricade. A police officer blares into his bullhorn, though his message is barely audible. This is progressing quickly, and I’m not sure if I belong in whatever this progression is.

(Did he just threaten to use force?)

The police are just too ominous–nobody wants a rubber bullet to the nostril. The crowd backs off, away from the confrontation point. Crisis averted. Cooler heads prevailed. I sweated stink into this shirt for no reason. Everybody is rational, hooray!.

Crowd members bellow: “Join us! Join us!”

It’s a spontaneous parade. Business owners hop in front of their establishments and cheer the marchers, who drift uptown. The mix of people is staggering in how, well, mixed it is. There is a strong contingent of what you might refer to as “Oakland hipsters,” but I see also see wheel chairs, football jerseys and gray beards. This lot is more representative than menacing.

I break from the crowd to rendezvous with my girlfriend. Once I find her, we have little clue as how to re-find the thousand-plus marchers. It’s whale watching if the whale mischievously tweeted the longitude, latitude of where he’d spouted 10 minutes prior. Really, that sounds more like something a dolphin would do.

So it’s back to the mostly vacant plaza barricades. We talk to a goateed, effeminate bicycle man. He waxes ambivalent about the protests, and I can certainly relate. Throughout this event, people digitally ask me: “Are you part of the protest?” Though I can empathize with the economic injustice that fuels this discontent, I am not a part of it. A certain set of neuroses prevents me from subsuming my personality into any collective emotion. It’s rooted more in an intense fear of getting manipulated than any grand, righteous code. Plus, this all started right after I (finally) got hired.

A sound builds from the north, the dolphin spouts yonder. The protesters are trotting towards us. People materialize from all directions, as though conjured by wizards.

Transfixed, Allie and I stare at what quickly becomes another barricade standoff. Protesters yell, chant, hold two fingers in the air. Police repeat the riot act, this time with clarity. I nurse some claustrophobia from “tiny” to “full-damned-grown.”


Smoke flies in all directions as screams ring out. And we’re running down 14th street with hundreds, chased by an enormous, clasping poison cloud.

I tug Allie’s hand while weaving through slower escapees. I look back–mainly because Allie slows down to film with her phone. In this moment, the siege is horribly terrifying, but also beautiful. Hundreds running, as a ghostly mass swims through the sky, slithering around buildings lit by helicopters. Never imagined it–at least in any scenario that did not include painful death.

The air is acrid, tasting faintly of unripe fruit. We trundle into a favorite Afghani restaurant, where the middle aged owner shrugs at his cash register. I would imagine he’s seen worse. The surrounding chaos animates his son, a gregarious type who can’t stop laughing at the tornado above his cellar. We eat beside an open door.

As the cloud vanishes, protesters appear like the sand uncovered by a receding tide. And I follow, stepping through a movie set city. The first act was tension, followed by relief. The second was tension, punctured by explosive terror. The third act builds on the tension implied by the second.

It’s the waiting that does it. Now that I know of this unpleasant surprise, I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival. Thirty some-odd minutes pass while I brace for explosions and exodus. It isn’t that I want to gargle gas, it’s just: This is all happening outside my apartment and I simply can’t ignore menacing, enthralling, accessible history. I am a rubbernecker with a gas-scratched throat.

But after awhile, this tension isn’t worth waiting idly through. I can only assume Oakland PD has learned a lesson. The gas won’t come, the first time was too dangerous for this compact an area. It’s all too much like a Bruckheimer movie. I start strolling towards my bed.

Boom! Pop!

People run towards me as I whip  back around. The cloud is back and taller than ever. People are cursing through the mist. Shock has given to anger.

Though the blast breaks my stride, I complete my short journey home, where the girlfriend is wrapped in a blanket. She called me four times as I tried to snap pictures of the non-lethal battle. I am doing much to exacerbate her worry, doing little to reward her love. It’s all to revel in a protest I’m not engaged in.

It will take another standoff and gas dispersal for me to finally hold to the friendly apartment confines. Has the Siege of Oakland just begun? When will basketball start again?

A shortened season doesn’t have to be a worse one

Irritation. Annoyance. Hostility. Forced apathy. Those are the major emotions the NBA fans, writers and bloggissists are feeling right now. An upcoming season that promised to be filled with intriguing storylines, high fan interest and brilliant levels of play is officially on hold. Assessing blame helps fans cope and gives writers something to, well, write about, but it doesn’t mask the reality; if there is to be a season at all, it will be a shortened, asterisk-marred one.

There has long been a push from some writers and even players for less games during an NBA season, but anyone who can recall the horrific play from twelve years ago knows that compressing the season isn’t the best way to go about it.

So to the players and, more specifically, the owners: here’s a call for you to do something right in this mess. If you return to the court this season, do it with the intent of making it the best strike-shortened season possible. Allow for full training camps so players can get back into shape. Let coaches teach and drill their systems. Give free agents some time to adjust to new surroundings.

If games do happen, avoid any back-to-back-to-back scheduling gauntlets. Don’t make fans continue to curse the lockout’s effect on the game they love. If that means cutting more games from an already condensed season, please do so.

The fans you couldn’t care less about would like to avoid having to spend the early part of the season wondering if Boris Diaw’s diet consisted purely of chocolate crepes. If that means playing just 50 games over a span you could squeeze in 60 or 65, please do that. Most fans would rather not spend the first three weeks of the season watching a once beloved veteran waddle around on the court like an unmasked mall Santa with one too many cinnabons in the bloodstream.

If the owners cram in as many games as they can, it will be a transparent acknowledgement that this was never about the game and always about the gold. You think fans won’t notice you’re jamming games in to recoup some losses inflicted by this mess? Producing a condensed season in which we actually talk positively about the basketball involved probably makes too much sense to happen, but on behalf of the fans, I’ll ask for it anyway.

Any benevolent gestures are an absolute fantasy given the way things have played out thus far. The talk of ‘system issues’ hasn’t hid the fact that when the chips are down, the owners have clearly prioritized money over wide-sweeping reform. With that theme in mind, let’s try this: make sure fans are the ones getting their money’s worth when play resumes. It’s good for your bottom line and our feeble sense that mid-level seats are worth shelling out 60 bucks. Trust my gut on this.

It isn’t the economy, stupid

“But we have been in a recession. The only thing that hasn’t gone down are players’ salaries.” — Charles Barkley, October 11, 2011

Chuck is not alone in echoing a Stern sentiment: NBA players should also tighten their belts, what with the economy and all. To be technical, America isn’t currently in a recession. The country is also not exactly thriving after its 2008 implosion. Fair to say “fallen and I can’t get up,” isn’t necessarily better than “falling.” Wall Street is occupied for a reason.

But I’m not sure America’s economic downturn is germane to a lockout negotiation. Owners will want more money, regardless of pie size. Same goes for the players across that table. Writers can hand-wring over how recession-smacked fans might view this, but the economy has not demonstrably hurt pro basketball. To quote Henry’s incisive lockout summary:

“Late Monday night a union official laughed at Stern’s talk of the state of the economy, noting ‘the NBA’s economy doesn’t stink.’ Even after players are paid, the NBA now brings owners a billion or so dollars more, every year, than it once did.”

Recent NBA television ratings have been floating higher than helium-farting condors. In general, sports are a’ booming. Perhaps this success has been stoked by social media and perhaps it’s just because the pinched seek distractions. But unless David Stern can clearly demonstrate how a bad economy is bad for his owners, it’s a convenient falsehood. And no, the Maloofs don’t count. That Palms business was some extracurricular self-immolation.

For now, it sounds like the disaster capitalism referenced in Jeff Magregor’s fiery lockout piece. The concept of “disaster capitalism” was the leitmotif of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, a book that chronicled how the wealthy profit from the social paralysis that happens during and after massive disasters. Klein tried to cram too many events into her over-arching theme, but it’s not hard to see why: This is an oft-repeated phenomenon. Powerful people so frequently cite awful events as the imperative for doing what they would favor under any circumstance.

A helium farting condor is attacking the town! I need your lunch money! It’s an especially big condor! Guh, for, um, condor repellent!

Will such chicken little-ing help owners? That depends on whether the players accept this panic paradigm.

Addressing Anger (If you really care about stadium workers)

Wednesday morning, I tumbled out of bed and into Twitter thorns. My “Nobody really cares about stadium workers” post had prompted much immediate (tweeted) outrage–or at least more anger than I’m used to consuming before sun up. So, I would like to use this space as a means for a) addressing that sentiment and b) better conveying some points that stoked such sentiment.

To briefly summarize the post, it is my belief that lockout-impacted stadium workers are often trotted out as symbols, and that the widely echoed sympathy for their plight is mostly feigned. I believe that what animates the “empathy” is a selfish desire on our part as fans and writers to end this lockout, to get basketball back in our lives. If we hold up workers as lockout victims, we can use them as a cudgel against the rich people who keep next season at arm’s length. In the post, I also wondered if hoops writers are venting their own employment frustrations while wearing stadium worker masks.

But, perhaps you as a reader or blogger do feel genuine sadness for these security guards and concession operators. Perhaps you write or comment purely out of solidarity with the less fortunate. If you are that person, then I wrote this sentence for you:

“To those who really do feel deep sympathy for stadium workers, I apologize. It’s not that I think you, personally, are lying–I just don’t believe you in the aggregate.”

To be fair, this sentence was not a marvel of concision or clarity. That certainly could have factored into why I received so much feedback from people who felt personally assaulted by my argument. So, in different words: I believe the overall “poor stadium workers!” trope exists for mostly selfish reasons, but that it is also possible for the selfless to use it. If you feel confident in your motivations, there is little reason to convince me of them. You can literally choose whether or not I’m insulting you…you possible bastard. With that in mind, why would you want to doth protest too much?

Now, for a paragraph that many fixed on (referenced above):

“Though many writers are waxing aggrieved about the thousands of lockout-pinched blue collars, I see no movement to reimburse the impacted. Where is the charity, the fund, hell, the Facebook group? If such a groundswell of actual deep feeling existed, then so too would a response. For all the concern regarding “actual” lockout victims, fingers are only lifted in the wringing of hands.”

I think some interpreted this as, “It is hypocritical to shed light on those suffering unless you’re in the trenches combating the problem.” I personally do not agree with that sentiment and I can understand why a few of you struck out against it. But I’m not making that argument. My point: The dearth of real action to combat a supposedly heart-wrenching problem is illustrative of how little readers and writers actually care. I’m not stating that you need to be working the soup kitchen in order to talk about homelessness–I’m saying that, if no such soup kitchens existed, it would say a lot about the absence of public worry on that issue. And if no such kitchens existed–but I kept reading screeds and comments that blamed homelessness on a select group of villains–I’d wonder after the veracity of all the righteous outrage.

Somewhat tangentially…

I don’t believe that the absence of work for stadium employees is some moral crime. To those impacted, it can be a personal tragedy. But on a macro scale, there is data to suggest that an NBA season causes a net negative economic impact on cities. Can you feel badly for those economically hurt by a lockout? Sure, just know that a lockout may help more people than it hurts.

Also, NBA teams are often once removed from all these stadium workers they’re supposedly responsible for. The Warriors get such services through SMG “Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Venue Management,” a large corporation that is headquartered in West Conshoshocken, Pennsylvania. Can you feel badly for SMG employees who might lack for cash opportunities this NBA season? Sure, just know that their company is free to run more events a short Bart ride away at the San Francisco Convention Center.

When you rip squabbling players/owners for slightly lessening SMG profits, you hurtle down a slope more slippery than K2 + WD40. By this logic, I’m hurting families by not buying up various fried foods whenever I walk into Oracle. Extending this logic, any striking employee or locking employer should be castigated, based solely on the negative Butterfly Effect consequences of a work stoppage. As in, autoworkers should never strike because they might deprive order takers at fast food drive-thru windows.

Perhaps it speaks to how withered the social safety net is that we’re looking towards basketball for economic salvation of the working poor. It’s the NBA, not the WPA, and last I checked: David Stern is no Franklin Roosevelt.

But back to the original piece, the defensive criticism of it, and my defensive criticism in response. To those whom I framed as disingenuous, to those I accused of not actually feeling for stadium workers: It’s okay to not feel their hurt on a meaningful level. It wouldn’t make you a bad person–at least I hope it wouldn’t define you as awful, because I’m certainly among the callous. I don’t necessarily feel deep sadness at the mention of another’s economic pain. The world is replete with suffering, and one would be crazy to empathize with every thinly broadcasted iteration of it.

It isn’t that I lack for any context. Though luckier than so many, I once found myself out of work for a nasty stretch. A particular memory still haunts: It’s past midnight in the vacant Safeway parking lot and I’m staring at my ATM receipt. It’s heavy in the negative, and the ugly numbers can’t even convey how bad the situation really is. There’s no job to show up for the next day, no purpose, no future, and no reason to wake. My head hits my hands, and I sob simply because it breaks up the numbing throb of shame-steeped desperation.

So yes, I get why people might feel terribly for those fired by fate. I just don’t believe such feelings are fueling the flawed message of: CBA talkers should wrap this up quickly on behalf of the wounded.

The NBA and trickle down economics












One of the major tropes accompanying the frustrated complaints about the lockout being an unnecessary and unwarranted interruption of the NBA’s tremendous momentum is that as bad as missing the NBA would be, what’s worse is the impact on stadium workers who won’t have games at which to work. In this depressed economy, throwing out thousands of people who depend on the league for their daily bread seems particularly cruel.

That’s all true, and on an individual level, this lockout could have some pretty frightening consequences. But when we zoom out, the economic picture gets more complex. When professional teams are lobbying for a new stadium, they cite all the economic growth that will come from spending tax payer moolah on a massive private enterprise.

But Neil deMause talked to some economists about this issue and argues that on aggregate, losing a professional sports team won’t hurt a city’s economy. In fact, economists say that the economy as a whole might benefit from a lost season, because it redistributes consumer funds more broadly. instead the money that would be spent paying LeBron James’s salary (who makes a penny or two more than the beer guy) is redistributed across business all over town.

The magic of consumer spending is that it begets even more consumer spending: Buy a can of tuna from your local grocery store, and the store owner uses a share of the cash to pay his workers, who in turn spend it on more groceries, and so on. The cycle continues until somebody sinks the money into a bank account or spends it on something in another state or country, at which point it “leaks” out of the local economy.

At a sporting event, however, the cycle is cut short. That’s because a disproportionate share of sports revenues goes to a handful of people—the team owner and the players typically soak up the majority of every dollar spent at a game. When a local grocery store owner goes out to dinner, he ends up putting money in the pockets of busboys who’ll later visit his store to buy vegetables and milk. When LeBron James cashes one of his paychecks, by contrast, it’s unlikely that he spends it all at the local Walgreens. Rather, your outlay on Heat season tickets will end up doing as much to boost the Bahamas as it does the economy in South Florida.

While bars, restaurants and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the arena, ones designed specifically to feed off of fan foot traffic, will no doubt suffer. This is not to say that these people don’t deserve our attention and empathy. But deMause makes a smart point: the money will be spent elsewhere, and assumedly it benefits a local economy when consumer spending goes to more local businesses.

This makes sense, especially for teams that play in downtown or urban areas. But in the case of a team like the Sacramento Kings, whose suburban arena out in Natomas draws thousands and thousands of people to an otherwise unremarkable city, it’s possible that a lost season would force dozens of businesses into the red and dry up a whole community’s major source of business.

The NBA is important to local communities as churches of entertainment. They provide a sense of cohesion and are a source of joy. I certainly wish the Sonics were still around, regardless of the cost.  But as a public trust, or even a public good, the positive impact in terms of dollars and cents is up for debate.

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