All across the United States, fans are jumping for joy, counting down the days until the retirement of NBA Commissioner David Stern.
With no other product are consumers so involved in how the manufacturer’s CEO manages business dealings behind the scenes.
Coca-Cola guzzlers could care less if Muhtar Kent uses polar bears, penguins, or Santa Claus to advertise everyone’s favorite cavity-causing mouth rot. They don’t care about the company’s distribution chain. And they don’t care whether Coke’s popular in Europe or not.
Coke could cause cancer for all they care. Just keep it comin’, and keep it under a buck a can. That’s it.
(By the way, this is an analogy and not a political statement. I love Coke, and I also love fast food, chips, candy, and a selection of other poisons which includes, but is not limited to, beer, whiskey, and the occasional …)
So why can’t fans just turn on the game, watch a few electrifying 360 slam dunks, and not worry about HOW this wonderful entertainment made its way to their television set?
Well, some can. But most followers of the NBA love to shove their two cents in when it comes to doing the job of the league’s CEO.
And make no bones about it. David Stern is the CEO.
The league throws the title “commissioner” out there to make fans think he’s just a glorified gym teacher, set in charge of making sure the balls get pumped up and breaking up fights between players who can’t get along.
But Stern’s job is simple: make more money for the owners of NBA franchises.
Where does the money come from? The fans. And this right here is why we’ve got a dysfunctional relationship with David Stern.
Fans view Stern as the instigator behind every ounce of NBA sin.
Protracted lockouts, escalating ticket prices, and over-commercialization of the game are all common complaints brought up by disgruntled fans.
He’s also been criticized for promoting individual stars over teams, and his record with regards to franchise relocation has made him persona non grata in numerous markets. In fact, the NBA has seen more teams uprooted under Stern’s reign than any other sports league.
Conspiracy theorists have even upped the ante, suggesting that Stern has rigged draft lotteries, paid off game referees, and engaged in other acts of puppeteering to get what he wants at any cost.
In reality, the theories are ridiculous, but given Stern’s track record of taking money over principle, it makes sense how so many fans are left wondering if there’s any truth to these myths.
Clearly not all fans feel this way, but more often than not you’ll hear opinions similar to these two that I pulled off an NBA message board:
“We can only hope the degrading influence upon the NBA will disappear with David EFFIN Stern.”
“Stern is an arrogant condescending prick.”
To this Stern might respond: “An insanely successful prick.”
Just as the masses are often unable to look at the big picture in politics, focusing in on petty grievances and forgetting that they still generally live a life of luxury compared to the citizens of country X, Y, or Z, basketball fans as a whole have forgotten what the NBA looked like before the arrival of the little man with beady eyeglasses and a thousand-dollar suit.
Like it or not, David Stern will be leaving a legacy. He, and not Michael Jordan, is responsible for making the league what it is today.
$30million to $1billion.
When Stern became commissioner in 1984, the league’s total television revenue was thirty million dollars. This is what Kobe Bryant makes all by his lonesome nowadays (no, this is not adjusted for inflation; chill out, finance nerds.)
For the 2013-14 season, television contracts breached one billion dollars, which would be more than enough to pay off Dr. Evil … no pun intended here; this is the part of the article where I say good things about our soon-to-be-retired commish.
The point, which may be difficult to see as I seem to be having a conversation with myself here, is that he’s grown the league from a minor player to an international sports sensation.
And total revenue has seen similar exponential growth, rising from $165million in ’84 to $5.5billion today. Are you that good at your job? I doubt it. I know I’m not.
“It’s too urban.”
It sounds ridiculous today, but during the ’70s and early ’80s much of the reason that the NBA was only marginally popular had to do with the percentage of black players when compared to the other popular leagues.
While the color barrier had certainly long since been broken, critics of the NBA used the phrase “It’s too urban” to disguise their racist views. Bear in mind that this was long before Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes exposed the problem with purely Caucasian players in White Men Can’t Jump.
I remember when I was a kid, still too young to understand all of the implications, there was a big stink when Larry Bird and the Celtics met Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the Finals. There were a good number of white fans in Los Angeles rooting for the Celtics and black fans in Boston rooting for the Lakers.
But such a blatant disrespect based on race wouldn’t fly in David Stern’s NBA. Instead of pandering to the whims of an ignorant fan base, he championed diversity in the NBA and made race “more-or-less” a non-issue in terms of how it affects team rosters.
Now, David Stern’s no Martin Luther King, but he did a lot more for racial tolerance in sport than people give him credit for. He’s also responsible for throwing the weight of the NBA behind women’s basketball, making the WNBA a legitimate professional league.
Globallization <– Aren’t I clever?
The NBA is by far and away the most popular American sports league overseas.
And sure, basketball is played all around the world, so it’s a simpler sell than, say, trying to get people who’ve never seen ice before care about a bunch of toothless Canadians skating around after a solid rubber puck.
But nevertheless, a global NBA was the vision of David Stern and if it weren’t for him, Vlade Divac, and Arvydas Sabonis, I’d probably not be writing about American sports for an Aussie website.
For you newbs out there, let’s throw out a couple more contemporary names here to drive my point home. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Yao Ming, and Steve Nash have all played a part in making the NBA a global brand. But who sent out the invitations? David Stern.
To an extent it was Stern’s worldwide expansion goals that led to the shift from team-centric marketing to focusing more on the superstars. This isn’t necessarily an excuse per se, I’m just pointing out the fact that there was a method to his madness.
Branding the league based on regional loyalty simply won’t work overseas. It totally makes sense that fans who’ll probably never see a game in person are going to be more interested in the top twenty stars than the twelve particular players who suit up for the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets.
So, good riddance and good job!
In closing, jubilant fans ought to be cautiously pessimistic about the change-over to Stern’s protégé Adam Silver. This is a man intent on continuing Stern’s legacy and not reversing it.
After all, there’s no way Stern was ever going to hand over his baby without proper grooming.
I’d recommend that you sift through your dad’s old LP collection for some very apropos advice from The Who: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
Don’t get your panties in a bunch. The commissioner’s job is to make more money for billionaires. Get over it. This is the world we live in. Just be happy that you don’t live in the 13th century where the only sport was throwing a rock or tree further than some other bloke while your balls dangle in the cold under your kilt.
Head to the pub with your mates, order a pitcher, and enjoy the game.
And don’t forget that before sneaky old Stern came around, the NBA Finals were on tape delay. Look at the big picture … even if he is an arrogant condescending prick, he’s the mastermind behind making the game you love what it is today.