NEW YORK – The fans wanted this, the NBA emperor tells everyone. David Stern tosses out some vague claim of market research to demand of his players what the commissioner has never demanded of himself: a control of his temper, the grace to react instantly to the incompetence of his officials with a robotic restraint.
That’s the irony: NBA employees have long described Stern’s private disposition as something that could make Rasheed Wallace(notes) blush with embarrassment. Nevertheless, Stern delivers a desperate mandate that does nothing but try to cover the flaws of his referees and remind the rank-and-file union members they’re ultimately under his control in this labor fight, ultimately at the mercy of his whim.
Just beyond the shadows of the NBA’s Olympic Tower Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, Boston’s Jermaine O’Neal(notes) drew his second technical in two nights for moderately reacting to a referee’s foul call. Kevin Garnett(notes) was given a technical moments later for trying to show an official how a New York Knicks player had hit him, and was then ejected for laughing over the legitimacy of that tech.
“These new rules are very, very excessive,” O’Neal told Yahoo! Sports before the game. “They’re telling us the general public says we whine too much, but look at the way the NBA’s business is growing globally. I can see both sides of this. No one wants to see complaining over every call, but look at the rules. You can’t even make a hand gesture – never mind say anything.
“It’s going to be interesting to see the first two weeks of the season and how all this slows the pace.”
The biggest stars can be some of the NBA’s most emotional gripers, and they ought dare Stern and his refs to start tossing them out of regular season games. The league office loves to bully, but never has the stomach for a true fight. Let’s see how fast the public repudiates the NBA and this false premise born of phony market research.
Dare these officials, dare Stern, to reward what will be the toughest opening-night ticket ever – and the biggest TV audience – with ejections in the Boston-Miami game. Go ahead and dare them to toss LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes), Rajon Rondo(notes) and Garnett. Go ahead and challenge Stern the way he’s challenged them. The commissioner has increased the fines on ejections too, and two players agents told Yahoo! Sports they hope the union contests the legality of it within the collective bargaining agreement.
“The message we’re getting is that this is about cleaning up the perceptions of the NBA,” O’Neal said. “We never really know the reasons. We’re just a product out there that gets the memos.”
The NBA has gone out of its way to bring writers into preseason seminars with the officials, to get them to buy into the idea there’s so much behavior that needs to be curbed. It’s a load of garbage, but then again, no one runs a propaganda machine like the NBA. These new guidelines for technical fouls should be here to eliminate the likes of ’Sheed’s old act, and yet this has turned into a preseason where Grant Hill(notes) earned an ejection for slapping an opponent’s behind.
On a list of 100 desires of the NBA fan, enacting this edict probably falls somewhere in the top 150. The fans? What they want is competent ownership and management. In perpetual losing markets, they want to be rid of Donald Sterling and Glen Taylor, George Shinn and Michael Heisley. They don’t want to be told that a man from Oklahoma bought the Sonics to keep them in Seattle, only to have it proven to be a lie – and still never hear the commissioner acknowledge it.
Fans want a chance to believe in so many of these small markets, and Stern gives them David Kahn as a GM.
The commissioner is losing a grip on a younger, brasher generation of owners, and losing the respect of his players. Once, the players saw Stern as a kind of Don, a Godfather they had to respect. Once, they saw him as the commissioner of the NBA. Over time, he became just the commissioner of the owners. This is one more show of muscle for a commissioner who’s never had less within his sport.
In an email, one veteran Eastern Conference player told me, “What’s going to happen next is that people are going to keep going with this [bleep] about how we don’t care, or don’t play hard … because we’re running around like a bunch of robots. We can’t win with this thing.”
Yes, referees should give techs to players who overreact. But now you get a technical for reacting. That’s an immense difference, and there’s no majority of NBA fans anywhere who ever demanded these changes from the league. This way, the league never has to address the putrid nature of its officiating. If players aren’t reacting to bad calls, they must not have been bad calls. San Antonio Spurs guard George Hill(notes) made a clean strip on the Los Angeles Clippers’ Eric Gordon(notes) in the final minute of a one-point game on Tuesday, got called for a foul and reacted in a natural, expressive twinge of frustration. He drew a tech, and it nearly cost the Spurs a game.
“With the nature of human error being involved with the officials, guys are going to react when it’s a bad call,” O’Neal said.
On the night that Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) scored 30 points in his Knicks debut at the Garden, everyone will remember one of these frightened young officials, Kane Fitzgerald, following orders and tossing Garnett because the Celtics star actually tried to care about a preseason game. Don’t blame Fitzgerald, because the idea of making an example of someone of K.G.’s stature comes straight out of Olympic Tower, straight out of an agenda that has nothing to do with the wants of the fans, nor the good of the game.
This is pure politics and posturing, the last stand of a commissioner who refuses to let the beginnings of a historic season breathe. The NBA fans wanted this, Stern says, and all those yes-men surrounding him in midtown Manhattan assuredly gave the commissioner one more standing ovation.
Just understand, David Stern is the max-out NBA star who’d never survive a day on the job with his new rules, who’s asking of his sport something he’d never, ever ask of himself: restraint and grace.
- David Stern