What David Stern Hath Wrought

Of course a fan’s suing the San Antonio Spurs. Liam Day argues it’s only natural after the NBA Commissioner fined the team $250,000 for the very same ridiculous reason. 

This is perhaps not the nadir of what David Stern hath wrought, but certainly a point somewhere near the bottom of the slippery slope. A fan, who bought tickets to watch the Miami Heat vs. the San Antonio Spurs on November 29, 2012, is suing the Spurs because he claims he was deprived of the product he paid for by coach Gregg Popovich, who sent the team’s veteran stars – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker – home early from a road trip, choosing instead to have them miss the game in Miami, which was the team’s fourth in five nights.

Being the megalomaniacal dictator that he is, Commissioner David Stern promptly turned around and fined the Spurs for $250,000 for doing “a disservice to the league and our fans.” In other words, David Stern all but invited the lawsuit that is now pending.

As I wrote when I included Stern’s decision to fine the Spurs among my list of 2012’s Worst Moments in Sports:

But if the Commissioner is going to be monitoring stars’ playing time to make sure that television audiences get what they tuned in for, that’s the edge of an awfully slippery slope. For, if I pay $100 for a ticket to see the Celtics at the Garden, shouldn’t I be assured that Kevin Garnett plays 40 minutes, even if that means he’ll be tired come playoff time. After all, I want my money’s worth.

I don’t want to blow my own horn because calling this one was just a little too easy, but I did call it. And that’s the thing. How did David Stern not see it coming, a very natural extension of the line of argument he used in fining the Spurs? Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s called as a witness for the plaintiff.

As such, Stern has clearly failed in his responsibility to the league he has ruled with an almost iron fist for more than 25 years. Yes, the suit is frivolous and I can only hope it will be summarily thrown out of court. After all, despite the absence of San Antonio’s stars, the game the ticketholder was subjected to was a good one. Miami had to come from behind in the last few minutes to win 105-100.

But, like the disgruntled fan, Stern, despite his responsibility to his league’s member organizations, hardly considered the actual game and how competitive it was when levying the fine—I wonder what he would have done if San Antonio had won—and by acting so precipitously he left one of those members exposed.

In levying the fine, he cited “our fans”, but one has to ask which fans he meant, for I would guess that most Spurs fans, to whom, presumably, the Spurs hold the deepest obligation, applauded Popovich’s decision. After all, the Spurs, despite sporting the league’s best record, have failed to make the NBA Finals each of the last two seasons precisely because their aging veterans were worn down come playoff time. “Our fans” clearly don’t include Spurs fans then, which is just a big old Fuck You from the NBA Commissioner’s offce. Actually, sorry, it’s Texas. That would be a big old Fuck Y’all.

More dangerous, though, than all of that is what the next step is. For if, as a fan, I can dictate coaches’ personnel decisions based on how much I paid for that night’s tickets, why would I not be any less disgruntled if a particular star’s playing time was curbed not by the coach, but by foul trouble. The refs are, after all, also employees of the league and, therefore, subject to the Commissioner’s oversight. If a particular ref happens to call too many fouls one night on Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, what’s to say that isn’t grounds for making sure he refs only Charlotte Bobcat games the rest of the season.

Of course, many people believe this is already the case. Conflicts of interest have riven the ranks of the NBA’s referees for years, everything from sucking up to stars on the court to personal relationships with some of the coaches. Most notably, Tim Donaghy has admitted to reffing games he bet on. Phoenix Suns fans still believe he screwed them out of an NBA Championship.

Any basketball fan who has watched an NBA game the last 25 years knows this. David Stern built his league’s international empire on the foundation of its stars, most notably Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. The stars got preferential treatment. For Christ’s sake, Shaquille O’Neal has yet to pivot in his life without traveling.

And therein lies the difference between the NBA and, say, the NFL. You can’t tell me that CBS Sports and the league office weren’t salivating over the prospect of a Manning-Brady match-up in the AFC Championship Game last week. But the Broncos lost to the Ravens and the playoffs didn’t skip a beat. The game’s what counts, the competition. By forgetting that, David Stern has riled up every yahoo yuppie who can afford courtside seats to believe he is entitled to something more than that.

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About Liam Day

Liam Day has been a youth worker, teacher, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains Apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma Stymie, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. He lives in Boston, where he works as a public health professional. He is the Sports Editor at The Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @LiamDay7.

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