Monday , Dec , 11 , 2006 Christopher Sells

Dear Mr. Stern

Dear Mr. Stern Dear Mr. Stern,

That was really hard for you, wasn’t it? Yeah, I know. That’s what we little people who don’t oversee a multi-million dollar industry have to do when we screw up. Sometimes you just have to look someone in the eyes, usually a boss or some other superior, and say, "I was wrong." When’s the last time you said that to anyone other than your wife? Heck, for all I know you’ve got her to bend to your will the same way that you have the Association. And if you do, you are truly a god among insects. And not the cool insects that you want to be when you’re playing as a child – the insects that no one respects. Like ladybugs. Stern, you are a god among ladybugs. But let’s face it: Even God (if you subscribe to those beliefs; if not, insert your deity of choice here) did some things that he later reconsidered. So to this point, let’s talk about some other things that you should probably address.

Going back to the old ball was a great start. It’s very public knowledge that your players hated (and still do hate) the new one that you rolled out last summer. I’ll pretend that you really wanted to progress the game and that there wasn’t any sort of financial windfall from Spalding involved. You’ve been doing it for the last six months, so it won’t hurt if I join you. I hope you’ve learned your lesson from that. Not every decision you make has to be motivated by money. I know that’s how we measure success these days, but sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture.

Occasionally, if not often, you have to keep your employees in mind when you’re making these decisions. Otherwise, you’re still the head of a lucrative business but the people who work under you think you’re a prick. And when the people who work under you think you’re a prick, you get hit with lawsuits over a basketball. Think about that for a second. You and I know that the basketball is one of the most important things to this game. But the general public, particularly the people who don’t like the NBA in the first place, will see a lawsuit over a ball. A toy. A bunch of leather – excuse me, microfiber – sewn together with some air in it so it bounces.  It’s not gonna look good. In fact, it’s going to put a larger gap in between your league and the audience you’re now trying to cater to.

Ah, your intended audience. Middle- to upper-class America. The people for whom you’ve been making a lot of changes anyway. The people who balk anytime they see a game being played without fundamentals. The people who think that the NBA and AND1 are the same thing. The people who presume that the games must be broadcast on BET by now. There’s a good chance that these folks aren’t going to come back to the game they once loved because it was pure and holy and so forth. So why not appeal to the people whom you know are watching day in and day out and to the people who are playing the game? What do I mean by that? I mean start exercising some better judgment with the things you say and do.

That thing from a couple years back about how you were the judge and the jury in the Ron Artest fiasco? Totally true, maybe a bit unfair, also made you sound like a total a-hole. The dress code? Good idea, but try not to make people feel like you’re doing this to specifically stop them from expressing themselves in the way that their culture does so. I know it’s exactly what you were doing, but play the game. Phrase things differently, maybe tell the coaches to tighten up on the things that their players wear. The enforcement of the rules that are already in the rule book? Great idea. It hasn’t totally stopped, but anyone familiar with the game knew that players got star treatment and that everyone was traveling. The hair trigger you’ve allowed the referees to have regarding technical fouls? Fine. The arguing and complaining was getting out of hand and public perception was the all the players were high-priced petulant children who didn’t like authority figures telling them they were wrong. This rule did not take into account that basketball is an emotional game and that these things happen to the most well-mannered players as well as the "problem children." 

It’s getting better, but some of the things are still ridiculous. The new rules saying that players must stand totally still during the national anthem? Nit-picking, but I guess it’s supposed to encourage respect for the country. Not being able to chew gum during the anthem? That’s exactly what I’m talking about there. Things that are totally unnecessary and don’t hurt anyone but some consultant has told you that middle America frowns upon. I could go on, but you’re an educated man and I’m sure you get the point.

So step down off the high horse. Revisit some of the other edicts you’ve handed down that are making you out to be a dictator. Remember to treat the players like you need them as much as they need you. Be a kinder, gentler commissioner who doesn’t come off like the kid who got beat up every day because they had a smart mouth. And publish a book on how to get your wife to do whatever you say. Husbands everywhere will thank you and you’ll make a little money to cover your losses from the basketball problem. Not that you need it.