Wednesday, June 13, 2012

David Stern Goes Ballistic...

David Stern has had contentious exchanges with the media during the course of his reign as commissioner of the NBA, and has always maintained an arrogant yet dignified cool about the allegations leveled at his league. But this one takes the cake. While being interviewed by provocateur deluxe Jim Rome, who we all remember as being the asshole who goaded then-quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams Jim Everett into a physical confrontation on the air, he asked Stern what was quite possibly the stupidest question he could have asked. But it was Stern's response that was beyond bizarre. Here it is from

NBA commissioner David Stern got into a heated exchange with Jim Rome Wednesday when the radio host asked him if the Hornets winning the draft lottery was fixed.

"I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, was the fix in for the lottery?" asked Rome, who hosts a daily show on CBS Sports Network.

"I have two answers for that," Stern said. "The simple easy one, no, the second, a statement, shame on you for asking."

Rome went on to say that he thought it was his job to ask because people wonder.

No, it's ridiculous, but that's OK," Stern said.

Rome, who used to host the show "Jim Rome is Burning" on ESPN, said he didn't think the question was ridiculous.

Stern responded: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"

Since Rome has no history of spousal abuse, it appears that the commissioner was using a traditional loaded question as a tool to make his point -- that the question itself, in this case about the lottery, presumes guilt.

Rome responded: " I don't think that's fair."

After a little more back and forth, Rome said he hoped Stern wouldn't hold the question against him.

"I wouldn't hold it against you," Stern said. "You and I have been in more contentious talks than that. But it's good copy. You do these things for cheap thrills."

Rome took offense to that statement, and Stern changed his characterization.

"Cheap trick," he said. "You've been successful in making a career of it, and I keep coming on."

That prompted a flurry of exchanges:

Rome: "Making a career of it? Making a career of what? What? Cheap thrills?"

Stern: "Now you're getting mad. You're taking on the world and now Jim Rome is pouting."

Rome: "I'm not pouting, I'm taking offense."

Stern: "You want to hang up on me?"

Rome: "No, I'm seriously running out of time."

Stern: "Listen, I gotta go call somebody important like Stephen A. Smith back. He's next."

Rome: "OK, you go make that call and I'll go talk to somebody else too I guess. Have a nice day. I did not hang up on him, we are officially out of time."

Why David Stern would make reference to such a serious issue as spousal abuse to belittle Jim Rome is beyond tasteless, and for a commissioner coming off some of the worst pro league contract negotiations this side of the baseball strike of 1994-95, he should have backed off with his choice of references. But let's be real about David Stern and where his arrogance emanates from. It is a monumental hubris from being at the right place at the right time and believing none of it could have happened unless he was at the controls. He has taken undue credit for the resurgence of the NBA during a time it was floundering both at the arena and on television, but the real credit needs to go to the superstars that came into the NBA when it was down and the sneaker companies who marketed the game better than anything Stern ever did.

There is nothing more American than the imperialist notion that owners and commissioners make a sports league, and nothing could be further from the truth. Talent makes a sports league. The administrators of said league, like in corporate America, think nothing moves without them. Old white men in suits aren't responsible for the talent that falls into their laps or the combination of luck and patience it takes to build a championship-winning franchise. But Stern is one of those cats who always felt comfortable taking undue credit for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson revitalizing pro basketball beginning in 1979, re-igniting interest in the league in general and the classic Boston-Los Angeles rivalry in particular. This happened way before Michael Jordan showed up, who with the help of Nike took the marketing of NBA stars to the unprecedented heights currently enjoyed by the like of Lebron James, who as if this date has been crowned "King" without having won one NBA title.

Looking at the past through rose-colored glasses obscures the truth. We have forgotten the other rivalries that simmered underneath the surface that no one remembers but were just as crucial to the development of the league during this time. Unfortunately, the viewing public only got a taste of these games via the one channel that broadcast NBA games on Sundays, CBS, and the only analysis came in the guise of the "Penzoil  at the half" halftime show.

In the East, we had Boston vs. Philadelphia, with Dr. J and his heated one-one-one battles against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee. During the Sixers' title run in 1982, center Moses Malone famously quipped "Fo' Fo' Fo'", meaning every series was going to be a procession of sweeps. The only team to beat them during this run was The Bucks, who had guards Junior Bridgeman and Sidney Moncrief (who would have had a much more heralded career if not for a knee injury), and big men Jack Sikma and Bob Lanier.

Then you had the New York Knicks and their running battles with the Detroit Pistons, games that were ferocious in intensity and full of incredible moments like Bernard King rippin' 'em up on the offensive end and Isiah Thomas scoring an unbelievable 16 points in the last 94 seconds of a game. Anyone who think Carmelo Anthony is the second coming of Bernard King needs to watch ESPN Sports Classics and get a feel for just how transcendent his talents really were, and how Anthony's game pales in comparison to the King, one of the best scoring small forwards the league has ever seen. And like Sidney Moncrief, we can only conjecture to what heights he could have risen of not for that catastrophic knee injury that robbed him of two years of his athletic prime.

Here is a sample of a write-up on Bernard King's stellar performance against the Pistons in the 1985 playoffs by then-Sports Illustrated columnist Bruce Newman-

King pulled himself up to a level that few players ever reach, leading the New York Knicks to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Pistons in their opening-round playoff series. Despite playing with dislocated middle fingers on each hand, splinted to hold them in place, and a case of the flu that overtook him midway through the series, the 6'7" forward averaged 42.6 points a game in one of the NBA's most extraordinary playoff performances ever. His 213 points against Detroit, on 84-139 shooting (60%) from the floor, broke the five-game record of 197 set by the Lakers' Elgin Baylor against Detroit in 1961. "Elgin had it long enough", King said with a certain finality after scoring 44 points in the Knicks' series-clinching 127-123 overtime victory last Friday night." 

The King of New York-

In the West, you had the Lakers, who suck the air out of the room in terms of their dominance during this wra, but let's not forget the epic battles they had against teams like the San Antonio Spurs, who with George "The Iceman" Gervin and center Artis Gilmore, gave them quite a run for their money. Then you had the Denver Nuggets with Dan Issel. Alex English and point guard Layfayette "Fat" Lever. They never went too deep into the playoffs and played no defense, but were a nightmare to play against because of their high-octane offense.

The jock-sniffing pundits at ESPN forget all this, and the fact that the league consisted of some of the most dynamic players ever to have graced an NBA basketball court is beyond them, because all they do is worship the same two-three players and the same two-three teams from this important and overlooked era. As time goes on, more people will forget how corporations from McDonald's to Nike took it upon themselves to globalize their brands while marketing the players whom they endorsed.

The globalization of the game can be attributed to the Magic/Bird rivalry. This set the tone for what Nike did with Michael Jordan. Then you had "The Dream Team" which made international stars of 11 of the 12 players who participated in the momentous occasion. This opened the floodgates for foreign players to enter into the league who have left an indelible imprint of the game. Davis Stern takes credit for all of this, and so is considered one of the geniuses of his ilk. Sorry pal, but it was the players and the sneaker companies with their advertising and marketing prowess that globalized basketball, not you. Next time, leave the spouse-beating references to Floyd Mayweather, who is as we speak doing hard time for exactly this crime.

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