October 14, 2011
The NBA lockout isn't a debate of principles -- it's closer to an endurance contest in which one party tries to pry as many concessions from the other as possible. Media spin plays a big part in that, since the degree to which a side can hold out (i.e. keep the NBA from playing games) depends on public opinion of the righteousness of the cause.
David Stern, 27-year NBA commissioner, has been through enough interviews that he should be a pro at playing the media to his ends. Unfortunately, it appears that he's become a little less smooth in his dotage. During a Friday morning interview with Dan Patrick on his eponymous radio show, Stern claimed that his recent media ubiquity is a direct result of union malfeasance (text via Ben Golliver at EOB):
"We decided it was time to do it because of the circumstances that we find ourselves in," Stern said. "The union has been buffeted by the agents, who literally don't want there to be a union. Why? As [agent] Arn Tellem has said, it's bad for the superstars that he represents. And, oh by the way, the union regulates agents and what they can charge. So of course the agents don't want a union. That causes [NBPA president] Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter to send out letters to the membership, denouncing the agents for trying to change the deal. And it causes them to become more strident, it causes them to say things that are not exactly the way things went down. We have to move out there to correct the record."
Stern didn't bother obscuring the underlying motive of his public campaign: influencing player sentiment.
"I think the players, if the rank-and-file truly understood the dynamic of the negotiations, they would have a completely different picture," Stern said. "And they would say, 'Let's get back to work.'"
The commissioner stopped short of calling Hunter a liar but did say he was responsible for perpetuating what Stern feels is an "inaccurate" representation of the negotiations and the proposals made by the league's owners.
"I think it's fair to say that [Hunter's] depiction of our motives, our offers, the state of the negotiations is inaccurate."
Those responses are condescending, self-serving, one-sided, and generally full of the sort of "we-will-crush-you" self-satisfaction that has defined the league's approach to the lockout. Apart from the fact that it's ridiculous to suggest Stern is only doing interviews because the union has willfully lied -- because, you know, Stern effectively gives an interview every time he makes a public appearance -- it's insulting for him to suggest that the rank-and-file members of the players' union are too stupid or ignorant to know that their interests aren't being protected. Even if that were true, it's awful to condescend so egregiously.
Stern's a smart man, but these attempts to sway the public to his side are almost too transparent to work. To be sure, casual fans may not understand the mechanics of the lockout as well as others. But this interview with Patrick -- along with one on Chris "Mad Dog" Russo's satellite radio show on Friday-- proves that Stern thinks very little of his league's fans and observers.
We all want the NBA to play games as soon as possible, but that doesn't mean we should accept any means towards that end. Stern is playing everyone for fools right now in one of the most insulting ways possible. It's on all of us to reject that treatment. Even if many casual fans don't understand the complicated factors at play in the lockout, writers and diehards do. It's time to demand basic human decency from all parties involved and force these discussions towards a more adult process. This labor fight is between players and owners, but everyone else can still call both sides on their crap.
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