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Ball Don't Lie

David Stern asks Jim Rome, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ in response to lottery-fixing question in radio interview

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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NBA Commissioner David Stern. (Getty Images)

"Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" NBA Commissioner David Stern asked sports talk radio personality Jim Rome during a contentious interview on Rome's nationally syndicated radio program on Wednesday afternoon.

Stern's remark — the textbook example of a loaded question, intended to suggest that the subject has been asked a question he cannot answer without incriminating himself — came in response to a question asked by Rome about public perception that the NBA had rigged the 2012 NBA draft lottery to ensure that the New Orleans Hornets came away with the No. 1 overall selection, despite having fewer chances at the top prize than the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers heading into the proceedings.

The NBA has owned the Hornets since December 2010. The league recently sold the Hornets to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, who will reportedly pay $338 million to take control of the franchise. That sale is expected to be finalized this week, according to Stern; at present, the league still maintains control of the team.

Rome, a well-known radio host and former ESPN personality whose radio show is syndicated nationally by Premiere Networks and who hosts a daily television program on the CBS Sports Network, is married with two children, according to the bio on his website.

Deadspin's Timothy Burke has audio of the contentious segment of the interview; we've got a transcript after the jump.

During their chat on the afternoon after the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Rome asked Stern about the belief held by some — including, as Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported immediately following the lottery, multiple NBA executives — that the league office put its thumb on the scales and rigged the lottery drawing in favor of a team still under its stewardship and that it just sold, as a favor to its new owner.

"You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery, which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed," Rome said. "I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy — was the fix in for the lottery?"

Stern bristled.

[Related: Thunder, not Supersonics, are in the NBA Finals, and Seattle is stewing over bitter departure]

"Uh, you know, I have two answers for that," Stern said. "I'll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking."

After emphasizing that his line of questioning intended no disrespect, Rome noted that he still thought the question valid, since many NBA fans and observers have openly questioned the validity and purity of the lottery. This time, Stern not only bristled — he swung.

"Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Stern asked.

"Yeah, I don't know if that's fair," Rome responded. "I don't know that that's fair."

Now, there's an important point to be made here. Stern, it seems, wasn't actually asking if Rome had stopped beating his wife; he was evoking a famous logic game, a rhetorical move intended to put your opponent in an untenable position. Whether you say yes or no, you are saying that you have been beating your wife. You incriminate yourself just by participating in the exercise.

The point Stern appears to be trying to make is that, in order for him to answer Rome's question, he by necessity has to agree that the league has rigged lotteries in the past and does engage in the practice of outcome-fixing, whether or not it did in this case. It's a bit of lawyerspeak from the commissioner, a Columbia Law-educated solicitor by trade whose relationship to the league began when he was retained as outside counsel nearly 50 years ago.

Here's the thing: It's unnecessary bull[EXPLETIVE].

Setting aside the moral/ethical/sensitivity argument you might make — "Hey, we probably don't need to evoke domestic violence during a sports talk radio interview, especially when it's not one about, y'know, domestic violence" — this wasn't a loaded question. There most certainly was a way for Stern to answer Rome's question — which, again, was "Was the fix in for the lottery?" — without in any way implicating the league in any impropriety.

David Stern knows that there was a way for him to do it, BECAUSE HE DID IT:

"Uh, you know, I have two answers for that," Stern said. "I'll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking."

That's it. Move on.

When Rome follows up to say the question's fair, reiterate "No, and shame on you for asking." When Rome tries to stoke the embers by saying he's heard from literally 10 billion people that they hate the NBA because it's rigged and they would never watch it again, double-down on "No, and shame on you for asking." When Rome, whose entire job as a sports talk radio guy is to try to light up phone lines, tells you that there isn't a single person in any galaxy who doesn't think you're the clowniest clownfraud who ever clownfrauded a lotteryrodeo, whittle it down and just say, "No."

You do not have to implicate yourself or your employer. You do not have to, by tendering an answer, stoke the fire. (Which, frankly, will be stoked no matter what you do, but most definitely won't die down now.) Simply saying "No" wouldn't have had any negative associations. So that's what you say. That's what you always say.

[Related: Adrian Wojnarowski: Sixers discuss front-office job with Danny Ferry]

You know why? Because you're a grown-ass man, and because the satisfaction of landing a quip on Jim Rome should be well past its expiration date by now. Because you're a 69-year-old adult whom (until recently) we'd matter-of-factly discussed as the clear sharpest chief executive in American sport. Because you're at the helm of a billion-dollar industry in the front of the American sports fan's mind right now, and the story that industry should have on the off-day between Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals damn sure isn't that you just allowed listeners across the country to think that you think a guy who racks hot takes hits his wife.

And yet: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Well, aren't you clever.

Even given the apparently clear lack of malicious intent here — again, I can't stress this clearly enough, I believe Stern was referencing the loaded-question issue and not any impropriety on Rome's part — this is bad for Stern. This will only make it look more like his grip on the wheel's loosened and that he's not making the best decisions anymore. This is a distraction — and a weird one — at a time where focus should be entirely on the game. This is the kind of thing that he'll have to defuse, but I imagine he'll come off as something of a jerk in that process, too, since he doesn't seem to grasp that that's not the kind of thing you drop with no setup.

It's unnecessary, and it's negative, and it's a speed bump. The last thing you need immediately after the start of the most anticipated series in years. Take a bow, Commish. You've earned it.

So, here's that transcript.

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"You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery, which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed," Rome said. "I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy — was the fix in for the lottery?"

"Uh, you know, I have two answers for that," Stern said. "I'll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking."

"You know, I understand why you would say that to me, and I wanted to preface it by saying it respectfully," Rome replied. "I think it's my job to ask, because I think people wonder."

"No, it's ridiculous," Stern answered. "But that's OK."

"I know that you think it's ridiculous, but I don't think the question is ridiculous, because I know people think that," Rome said. "I'm not saying that I do, but I think it's my job to ask you that."

"Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Stern asked.

"Yeah, I don't know if that's fair," Rome responded. "I don't know that that's fair."

"Well, why's that?" Stern asked.

"Because I think that there are — and I know you read your emails and I'm sure you follow things virally on Twitter — people really do think it, whether it's fair or not," Rome said. "You don't think the question's fair to ask if your fans think it?"

"People think it because people like you ask silly questions," Stern said. "I expect it to be written about — and actually, I commented last night in my presser that there was one guy who I won't dignify by naming who says, 'I have no reason to know anything, and I don't know anything, but I tell you, I believe it's fixed.' OK, that's good. Why is that? 'Well, because this team won.' And if that team won, it would've been fixed also, and if that team won, it would've been fixed also. And if every team was invited to have a representative there, and there were four members of the media there, and if Ernst and Young certified it, would you still think it? 'Yes.' So, I guess ..."

"I think two things, which responds to this," Rome interjected. "Number one, I don't think so. I don't think so — and I'm not covering myself — I don't think so, and I think by asking the question, it would not suggest I think so. But the one thing I would say: The league does own the team, does it not?"

"... Yes," Stern said, a question mark at the end of his sentence.

"Does that not make the question fair?" Rome asked.

"I don't think so," Stern said. "Number one, we sold it. We're gonna close this week. We already have established our price. I think that if it had gone to Michael Jordan, which was the next team up with, in terms of a high percentage, they would've said, 'Oh, David's taking care of his friend Michael.' And if it had gone to Brooklyn, which is going into Barclay Center, it would have been fair to speculate, I suppose, that we want to take Brooklyn off of the mat. So there was no winning. And people write about it, and it's OK to write about it, and we sort of expect it, but that's not a question that I've been asked before by a respectable journalist."

"I think I understand why you're frustrated by that; I think that I understand why that would upset you," Rome said. "I would hope that you would not hold that against me."

"I wouldn't hold it against you — you know, you and I have been into more contentious discussions than that," Stern said.

"I don't know, I'd put that one right up there," Rome replied.

"Well, you know, it's good copy, and you do things sometimes for cheap thrills," Stern said.

"I did not do that for a cheap thrill," Rome answered.

"Well, that's what it sounds like," Stern said.

"No, not at all," Rome answered. "See, that's where you and I — that's our point of disconnect. That was not a cheap thrill and I was not throwing anything against the wall, and I was trying to be as respectful as possible. I'm just saying that people wonder about that. And here's what I don't want to do — I don't want to say, 'Hey commissioner, people would say ...' Because I'm going to ask a direct question. But people do wonder. But that was not a cheap thrill. I got no thrill out of that."

"Well, it's a cheap trick," Stern said.

"No, flopping is a cheap trick," Rome said.

"Well, no. But listen, you've been successful at making a career out of it, and I keep coming on, so ..." Stern said.

"Making a career out of what, though, commissioner?" Rome interrupted. "See, I take great offense to that. Making a career of what? Cheap thrills?"

"What offense are you taking? You're taking offense?" Stern asked.

"I am. Now I am," Rome answered. "If you're saying I've made a career out of cheap thrills ..."

"... taking on the world, and now Jim Rome is pouting? I love it," Stern said.

"I'm not pouting; I take offense," Rome said. "There's a difference between pouting and taking offense. I take offense like you took offense to the question. What if I said — were you pouting when I asked the question?"

"What offenses? Do you want to hang up on me?" Stern asked.

"No, I can't hang up on you, because I'm running out of time — I would never hang up on you," Rome said.

"OK," Stern said. "Listen, I've got to go call somebody important, like Stephen A. Smith, right now. He's up next."

"All right, you go make that call, and I'll go talk to somebody else, too, I guess," Rome said.

"All right," Stern said.

"All right, commissioner. Have a nice day," Rome said. "I did not hang up on him — we are officially out of time. We will come back and reset that momentarily. Stay tuned."

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