Sunday, December 2, 2012

David Stern and the Spurs: Hypocrisy, Ego, and Unchecked Power

The San Antonio Spurs are a model organization: they have a likable franchise player, stable leadership (Popovich and RC Buford have been around since the '90s), and they have succeeded in a small market. They are the answer to everyone who points out that small-market teams can't win and they are a joy to watch. They are led by Popovich, the undisputed #1 coach in the league, and someone who makes other coaches look like the computer on level one to his Bobby Fischer (chessed!). Year in and year out, he tinkers with his team, switching rotations, and is light years ahead of other teams strategy-wise (remember Bruce Bowen, Danny Ferry, and Steve Kerr dominating corner 3s years before the rest of the NBA figured out that was the best shot in the game?), while winning 50+ games every single year.

This year is no different. The Spurs are a contender like always, despite the age of their team. Young players like Tiago Splitter and Danny Green have made huge contributions to a team that, as always, is buoyed by the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili core. Popovich also understands that the NBA season is a grind, especially on the knees of a 7-footer who is 36 years old. So logically, just like he's done in years past, Popovich rested some of his top players for Thursday night's game against the Heat. Green, Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan didn't even come to the game; they didn't sit out with some obvious excuse like tendinitis or "OLD" as Duncan was proclaimed to be last year (Pop wasn't wrong here). Instead, they flew home, slept in their own beds, and watched their teammates play the defending champion Heat.

David Stern, of course, would have none of this. Proving he still has his hypocritical, egotistical fastball despite nearly 30 increasingly mismanaged years on the job, Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 for benching their top four players. He argued that the Spurs "did a disservice to the league and our fans" by not telling the Heat they weren't bringing their A team and thus depriving Miami fans and TV watchers their only chance to see perhaps the best small forward of all time take on the best power forward of all time. First of all, Miami fans got to see an incredibly competitive game. They aren't exactly lacking in starpower when they have the best player in the world, and TNT was probably more than happy to have a close, exciting game that had the feel of a 16 seed trying to upset Duke. Furthermore, the Spurs are only beholden to their team, their fans, and most of all their players. They have the goal of winning a championship not making the Miami fans or TNT executives happy.

Basically, Stern wants teams to acquiesce to the almighty power of TV revenue. TNT is the lifeblood of the NBA and they don't want low ratings. What's that you say? Shouldn't we be worried then about smaller-market -- and thus smaller TV rating-generating -- teams not getting the same treatment as big-market teams? Ask the Kings or Blazers fans how they feel about the officiating in 2001 and 2002 and you might have your answer. Shouldn't you want teams to be healthy and able to play their best basketball in June instead of November? Stern may be arguing that teams should pander to TNT, but god damn if this isn't about ego.

David Stern has the biggest ego in the NBA and is probably the biggest thug. He will bully, threaten, and create rules no matter what the situation is, all under the guise of stewarding the league. Impose a dress code on players for essentially dressing too urban? Check. Have to make the white season ticket holders feel less threatened by the young African American talent. Institute draconian rules about leaving the bench during an altercation that must be applied in all situations no matter how unjust? Check. Suns fans will remember Amar'e Stoudemire missing Game 5 against the Popovich Spurs because Robert Horry decided to destroy Steve Nash after the game was out of hand. Veto a trade because the team the NBA owned and was trying to sell wasn't getting enough? Check. Fine players for flopping, taking money out of player's pockets that wasn't collectively bargained for? You get the point.

David Stern has a vision for the NBA: it is his and his alone. It has obviously produced plenty of good for the league, but as is the case when anyone has unchecked power, there isn't someone there to stop him from doing what he wants. Popovich cares about his team a million times more than the TV ratings for TNT's Thursday night game, and he should. It should also be mentioned again that this game was entertaining as hell. Charles Barkley doing color commentary and the Spurs' backups playing out of their minds for 46 minutes was awesome. That's irrelevant to Stern, because the Spurs didn't go through the charade of making up an injury for their old guys that can easily be translated into "4th game in 5 days." The Spurs had a  huge game vs. Memphis Saturday night, which the Spurs won in overtime thanks to Duncan and Parker playing 84 minutes and scoring 57 points, and they punted one game. The NBA plays 82 games in an effort to maximize revenue and the tradeoff is that players are going to need games off throughout the season. Schedule losses are common in the NBA and cannot be avoided. Smart teams like the Spurs are happy to give their bench players big minutes, building their confidence, and avoid a physical matchup against the best player in the world, to sustain their energy for an in-division game.

David Stern wants to have his cake and eat it too. And if you don't follow his fucked up logic, or rather defy him to his face, instead of through obvious lies, you'll be fined. Stern has reached the point in his tenure where the league is full of great teams and players, and is in a great position no thanks to him. He's Willie Mays falling down in Shea Stadium, only he's chomping at the bit to get into a dick-swinging contest with anyone who dares to defy his rules. He's already told teams who they can trade for whom and now he is telling a model organization and a Hall of Fame coach how he should handle his team in November when they have to hold up over the next 80+ games. Meanwhile, refs are dancing across the court to make game-altering calls, players are holding small-market teams hostage, teams are tanking at the end of every regular season, and a team is in Charlotte that gets 12,000 viewers a game. Adam Silver can't become commissioner fast enough.

Here's to you David Stern:

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