Tuesday, November 23, 2004

David Stern owns you
By Zach

Here's what I think about this whole Ron Artest nonsense:

David Stern has shown just how much control over the NBA, and the media, he has.

Friday night, right after the fight, the entire crew of ESPN's NBA Shootaround were claiming that they stood with the players, that the fans were largely to blame, as was the Detroit (lack of) security.

Since, all we've heard is how Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal were totally wrong to go into the stands and hit abusive fans.

But it's not just ESPN that's done it. On Saturday, CBS Sportsline's Mike Kahn ran a column attributing most of the blame to the fans. Then yesterday, after the league (i.e. Stern) had a chance to set the agenda, Kahn changed his tune, saying that players, and columnists, supported the move. Kahn, like everyone else, was intimidated by the Commish.
The most powerful man in sports.

Stern wields more power than any other commissioner. Bud Selig is a national joke, Paul Tagliabue is slowly going insane, and no one knows, or cares, who Gary Bettman is. Most of it is because Stern has gotten the credit for taking the NBA from a distant 3rd league in the late 70s to the top league, at least in the mid-90s. Now, it's more like a distant second, with baseball sneaking up quick.

Part of that may be because the perception is that the NBA is full of thugs-a racially loaded term if I ever heard one. As my black roommate pointed out, there's only one player in the NBA who's white and could be called a thug-Jason Williams.

The Great White Thug Hope.

Does the fact that the players on the court don't look or act like most of the people in the stands affect attendace? Maybe, but if that were the case, we'd see attendance down in all sports...how many Venezualans do you see in a typical baseball crowd? More to the point, basketball as a sport allows far more individual expression than other sports. The NFL may be the No Fun League, but they keep their players from alienating their fans (Terrell Owens notwithstanding).

This all comes from David Stern's perhaps ill-fated attempts to market the league in the 1980s. Clearly, there was a thought that the game itself wouldn't sell, so the marketing geniuses at the NBA turned towards individual players as selling points. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, then Michael Jordan, all became much larger than the sport, or their team. While it worked for ratings and merchandising, it has driven the league into a tough position.

The league markets players not just based on their talent, but on their general appeal. That's why Allen Iverson was everywhere for years, or why players like Grant Hill, Vince Carter, and Kobe Bryant have all been anointed the new Jordan. So far the ploy has yet to work, as Hill proved to be too brittle, Carter too not good, and Bryant too likely to rape someone to replace MJ.

All this leaves David Stern with a league full of players who realize that their contracts and their endorsements are tied to how often their appear on SportsCenter. Not only has that led to a deterioration in fundamental play, but towards more and more outrageous behavior.

So if David Stern wants to make Ron Artest the whipping boy for Stern's mistakes, he can, and did. But it's going to take more than one suspension, no matter how severe, to fix the problems with the NBA.


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