A funny thing happened to David Stern on his way back from the bank.
He was returning from depositing checks made out to the NBA by Mark Cuban. The fines had been levied by Stern against Cuban for criticizing the referees of the NBA for lackluster performance. Stern, being the commissioner of the league, scolded Cuban but good utilizing the power of the pocketbook, and strolled back to the league office with the confidence and swagger of a man confident in his decision making.
Then he passed the newsstand.
It seems that half of the referees in the NBA had violated the rules of the league by going to casinos in the off-season. One referee in particular, one Tim Donaghy, was indicted for fixing games in favor of illegal gambling interests.
David Stern acted decisively - by doing nothing.
Tim Donaghy had already resigned from the league by the time the story of his game-fixing hit the streets at large, requiring nothing more of David Stern than was required of Pontius Pilate. He washed his hands of Donaghy and let the feds take care of the execution of justice.
The other casino-hopping refs got the Scooter Libby treatment. Their punishment for breaking the rules of the NBA was for the head of the NBA to change the rules to make it OK for the refs to go to casinos in the off-season. This kind of reaction doesn’t even rise to the level of making each ref sit facing the corner wearing a dunce cap for 20 minutes. Rather than face the problem head-on, Stern saw a problem and ignored it by imperial fiat.
You have to admire the arrogance of David Stern, if nothing else. He sits on his New York throne like Queen Elizabeth II, as the head of a fading empire, TV ratings heading in a downward direction, shrinking attendance, officials with questionable ethics and a dysfunctional ownership team at the helm of the blue-chip franchise down the street at Madison Square Garden.
Through his leadership, he has done everything in his power to exclude the African-American community as fans of the sport in exchange for a well healed (read: WHITE) fan that, if we are to judge strictly by attendance figures, apparently doesn’t exist. Not to worry though, African-American fans! You can still purchase throwback jerseys at a ridiculously high price and display your pride in the NBA from a distance, where David Stern prefers you.
In a league that includes Donald Sterling among the NBA ownership group, it’s not a complete mystery as to why David Stern keeps his job. Having stated that, I appear to be the only person in the public at large who thinks that David Stern got a free pass on a problem he helped create. By constantly displaying to the world at large that he would back up the referees against all criticism, he helped form a Teflon class of official like no other in any sport. One wonders what rule the officials will break next, knowing that unless they go the full illegal route like Donaghy, Stern still has their collective backs.
The NBA has been dogged for years by criticism stating that a separate set of rules appears to exist for the star players in the league. Stern could laugh off that kind of charge based on the lack of long-term statistical evidence. Tim Donaghy throwing games and altering the results of those games for the benefit of gambling interests throws the entire product put forward by the NBA under a cloud. How can any fan of professional basketball watch the NBA and trust the product now?
As long as Stern continues to sit at the helm of the NBA, this league can’t reasonably consider itself credible. When an entity loses the public trust, the eventual destruction of that entity is spent for a short time on outrage, followed by long term indifference. I for one have now reached the latter category.