What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
With his passing the yesterday, the media as it is prone to do spoke in reverent tones about the former commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The over-arching theme in their electronic eulogies was the NBA would not be what it is today if it hadn’t been for Stern’s stewardship of the league from 1984 to 2014.
If you have been consuming any sports media today, you’ve already heard how Stern assumed control of a league teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe and transformed it into a global sporting leviathan. Stern turned an organization with annual revenues of $150 million to a cash cow generating $5.5 billion yearly. Under Stern’s watch, the league expanded from 23 to 30 franchises, and the NBA under Stern wrote the manual on how to market it’s stars.
But as I watched the lamenting of Stern’s passing, I couldn’t help but notice the same media who were throwing all the flowers today were the same one who drew their daggers on him over the years. There are three examples in particular that I couldn’t help but notice were largely glossed over by the media and have in many respects been been undone by current commissioner Adam “Nosferatu” Silver.
The first is the most recent; Stern’s tenure as commissioner was a balancing act between having star players in big markets while keeping smaller markets viable so the league didn’t become a regional/urban interest. So, when stern blocked a trade between The New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers in which Chris Paul would have ended up in Los Angeles, the media crucified him for trying to let the smaller markets keep their stars. Now as we enter the sixth year of the Silver administration, name how many of the NBA’s top stars now find themselves playing in a top-ten media market.
Then there was the matter of cleaning up the league’s image. In the 1990’s, the NBA found itself dealing with players brawling with fans in the stands (the “Malice in the Palace” in Detroit) and a national anthem protest almost two decades before Colin Kaepernick. Stern handled both of those issues in a manner that suggested he knew he had to make omelettes, and he didn’t care about whose eggs he broke. Stern instituted a dress code for traveling players, a code of conduct for all players, and an implemented an autocratic crushing of the national anthem protest, complete with a codification eliminating such displays.
Of course, the media and the player’s union called this everything from “insensitive” to outright “racist.” I called it “effective leadership.” Stern didn’t care about the heat he was going to take, he did what he had to to protect the business…and it worked. More proof in that pudding came from Roger’s Goodell’s mis-handling of the National Football League’s anthem protests. I said at the beginning that Goodell needed either to completely embrace the protests or decisively obliterate them; either would have taken the wind out of the issue. Stern acted decisively; Goodell did not and as a result the Kaepernick issue haunted him for three years and as many seasons of diminishing TV ratings.
In contrast, Commissioner Nosferatu’s bungling of the China affair showed that he is anything but an effective leader. He has shown time and time again he cares too much about public opinion and being criticized to act decisively. This is why he presides over a league whose stars are seen as petulant cry-babies who only play when they feel like it. And as one would expect, the TV ratings for the NBA are in free fall.
But it’s the “race’ issue that is my favorite example of the media’s duplicity toward David Stern. When Commissioner Nosferatu banished former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for being a racist piece of shit, the media broke out the long knives on Stern asking why he never acted on the Sterling issue; his racism might have been the world’s worst kept “secret” at the time. Even though Donald Sterling may have been a contemptible pig, Stern also wasn’t stupid. He knew that nothing Sterling had done during Stern’s reign was worth the legal fight it would take to get rid of him. Even after Commissioner Nosferatu got handed the “smoking gun” tape of Sterling’s racist comments, there was still of lot of legal wrangling to wrest the Clippers from his grip.
Not only that, David Stern was no ingrate. As bad of a guy as Sterling was, Stern never forgot that he and the NBA owed Donald Sterling it’s very life. It was Donald Sterling, who with his 1984 purchase of the then-San Diego Clippers gave the NBA a gravely-needed infusion of cold, hard, cash. The NBA was barely making it’s payroll in 1984, and Stern knew he was going to need operating capital if he were going to start curing what ailed the league.
That brings us to what I think is David Stern’s true legacy. All the things he accomplished in his time as the head of the NBA were brought to reality by one common trait…decisive leadership. While there are so many examples of this throughout his career, the three instances I’ve mentioned here highlight Stern made decisions based on one factor; what was good for the NBA. Stern may not have always been right, but then again I don’t trust anybody who says they’ve never failed at anything. They’re either lying or they’ve never tried anything.
In other words, Stern wasn’t perfect, but he was incredibly successful. He made a lot of money for a lot of people, and created opportunities for many, many more. He was the master architect of a model professional sports league, and his genius is already showing in contrast to the idiocy of his successor.
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