Thursday, September 27, 2007

David Stern vs. Oklahoma City

David Stern fascinates me. As a commissioner of a league that isn't the NFL, his job has a lot of challenges. The NBA has been haunted over the last few years by the perception that it's filled with out of control thugs. The fairness of this opinion could be debated at length. Granted, there are issues like, well, Ron Artest that don't do a whole lot to dispel this belief. On the other hand, football is home to professional dog fighters that bring garbage bags of cash into strip clubs. But, citing leaps of logic like this is ultimately pointless. Fairness doesn't matter: either the public wants to buy your product or it doesn't. David Stern understands this, and has never taken a 'woe is me' approach to his duties. He's been a strong and assertive leader with the ultimate motive of preserving the long term health of the game. The fact that Bud Selig still has a job shows that this isn't a universal standard.

I can't really say that I agree with every decision he's made. Over the last few years, there have been things such as the dress code and the ball that have made me question how much he understands both his audience and his players. But, the arc of his career and the the bent of his choices has been towards basketball being a viable and profitable league. So, that makes me respect him. That, and his willingness to be an absolutely brutal and ruthless decision maker. Have you ever heard this guy give a press conference? The man has balls of steel. When he becomes convinced he needs to do something, his heart instantly becomes made of stone.

This fact makes me think that Clay Bennett and his redneck contemporaries are pretty much screwed. The ownership group out of Oklahoma City got a taste of the NBA experience, and decided that was something they wanted long term. So, they bought the Sonics and immediately started coming up with pretext to move them down south. You know Stern is way too smart to not have perceived this coming, but as long as it was implied, there was not a whole lot he could do. But when Bennett began publicly discussing it, he swiftly fined him, icily telling him that Seattle would at the very least be playing out their lease at Key Arena. Now that OKC has filed arbitration to be released from that obligation, Seattle has in turn filed a lawsuit to keep them there. Maybe this will be sufficient to stop the move. But if it isn't, you'd better believe David Stern is getting involved.

Basketball has been dysfunctional in Seattle, but it doesn't mean that the city deserves to get screwed out of their team. And, as enthusiastic as the fanbase might be, there just isn't enough money in Oklahoma for a relocation to make sense for the NBA. So, you want a battle? Bring it, OKC. Stern isn't scared. He may look like an elf, but he'll mess you up. You should have picked a bitch commissioner to cross. Maybe there's a baseball team available.

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