Any goodwill that David Stern may have created in his decades-long stewardship of the NBA has been shot to hell over the last few months. Not only has his ego reached a breaking point in negotiations with both players and the NBA's referee union, but his rhetoric and lack of good-faith negotiating has led to a lockout that's course is straying far, far away from the course we saw in the 1998 lockout. That labor dispute included conditions and changes to the collective bargaining agreement that were much more significant to the admittedly myriad and complicated changes the sides are trying to agree on in 2011.
No, Stern has not come off well. And he never wanted to save the beginning of the 2011-12 NBA season. But he's also not a "plantation overseer," as HBO's Bryant Gumbel called him in an otherwise-sane monologue towards the end of his show on Tuesday:
Now, it should be pointed out that Gumbel isn't calling NBA players "slaves," nor is he saying that Stern has been successful in turning the NBA into a plantation of sorts. He's just pointing out that Stern, especially over the last decade, has gone out of his way to give a shrug of the shoulders to the otherwise fair-weather fans when things go wrong with the players his league employs.
Stern is quick to align himself with the types that fill up the NBA's complaint box when things go wrong. And when it comes time for the NBA's yearly speech about how wonderful things are going, Stern rarely discusses the abilities of his All-Stars (as he did in speeches during the 1990s that I recall), talking instead about global growth and how well NBA.com is doing.
I wouldn't take it as far as Gumbel did, because it's clear Stern doesn't want to take it as far as Gumbel thinks he does. And although Gumbel could and probably should have used less inflammatory rhetoric (if only so that people listen to the entirety of his argument), there can and should be no dispute about how Stern sees himself as a caretaker of sorts.
Not of the game, mind you. That's of little concern to him at this point. But his 30 owners, and the reputation of their respective income streams when some small forward does something stupid.
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