The event for which we've been preparing now has a date. 2014, it seems, NBA commissioner David Stern might be retiring. Adam Silver, the deputy commissioner, will take over following the 2013-14 season, the New York Daily News reports, and we're still stuck with the same feelings regarding Stern's impending departure as we had ages ago when considering his eventual step-down. Stern has his many faults and failings as the league's boss, to be sure, but do we really want a less-effective version of him taking over?
It's a tired take on the 40-year-old "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" cliché, but even though Silver impressed many (including our man Dan Devine) at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference over the weekend with his grace and humor, matching Stern's wry quip for quip doesn't a top-breed commissioner make. And make no mistake; for all of Stern's mitigating factors in his 30 years as commissioner, he has been a great one. Possibly the finest ever in any of the major North American pro sports, save for forward-thinking NFL boss Pete Rozelle. And we write that in full knowledge of how his last decade may have completely sullied that legacy.
For someone to take over sharing Stern's mindset but not his ability to juggle while dodging the wheels of his detractors is a dangerous thing. Righties may want no part of Barack Obama, but would they really like to see Joe Biden running things? Most were sick of George W. Bush by the end of his whole "thing," but would Dick Cheney have been a preferable alternative? Or any of the Speakers of House underneath?
It's a crass and unappealing comparison, but it's almost like living life under a dictatorship, and wondering how chaotic things are going to be once the axe falls and the leader is deposed. Stern is a dictator. He's a puppet of the owners every few years when the collective bargaining agreement runs out, but once pen meets paper on that document he's back to running things as he sees fit with the odd nod from like-thinking people like Silver, Stu Jackson (when it comes time to make terrible trades involving star point guards) and whatever corporate head that wants a seat at the table. Especially if that table is at the poorly named Basketball Hall of Fame.
We're not still in the afterglow of the NBA boom of the 1980s or the staggering international growth that has followed when we remind you that Stern has held a heck of a lot together, if not with ease and efficiency, then at the very least successfully overall. There have been and will be opportunities to point to individual mishandlings of specific situations in the moment, but while this feels like a complete whitewash, just about everything has turned into an "all's-well-that-ends-well" situation. Benevolent despot has put a chicken in every pot and a series of jerseys in every airport gift shop.
The worry here is Silver, whom we realize we are completely insulting with a piece like this. This isn't a reaction to his designated role as Stern's go-to hardass in negotiations -- though Stern handled that with a lighter touch in his time under predecessor Lawrence O'Brien -- because that's his gig. The worry is the pressure to sustain, and to drive Stern's 30-plus-year legacy into the same garage you're currently housing your year-long stewardship in during 2015. Or the next labor negotiation in 2017.
Will Silver attempt to ape his current commish, or strike out slightly on his own? Faced with dueling factions between impatient new-wave owners and the dwindling old guard, how will he react when they privately chirp (on either side of that age-inspired line of demarcation, or even between either side of the table featuring owners and players) that "David didn't do it this way"?
Or, as Matt Moore pointed out over the weekend, will Stern even follow through on doing it this way? It's easy, after a tough and draining lockout that nobody (even owners like Mark Cuban, as we found out over the weekend) seemed to be happy with, to point two years down the line as a date to finally step down. It's easy for any of us to look down the road and assume that we're going to be a doddering old fool that needs to step aside.
The trick is, when the two years elapse and it's clear you can pour your own applesauce, much less ably lead a negotiation, actually deciding that the time you pointed to two years earlier is still right. Will he ignore those competitive juices? Will he trust anyone to take over with what he feels he created? Will he decide that the 2017 lockout (whether it involves missed games or not) is his last time to get it right? No one ever, ever says "old man" to the old man; and because of the power structure that Stern has built around him, nobody will be in any position to remind him that it's time.
And when it's time, what will become of us without our Honorable Great Leader, all full of shiny war metals and dry musings for reporters to lap up?
It's a thought that leaves us uneasy. Which is probably how David wants it.
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