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David Stern Just Does Not Get It

First of all, great minds think alike, because my blogging partner Ben just shared a wonderful NBA "Interoffice Memo" piece with us just below.  Check it out.

I would like to buttress the sentiment by referring to this article over at Yahoo.  A couple of select sentences:

David Stern came to the defense of his beleaguered referees again Thursday, saying they don't manipulate games or engage in other criminal activity...

He said he felt bad for Boston and Los Angeles players in the finals, and especially the officials who have to "defend themselves against allegations by one of their fallen brethren."

OK, stop.  I know you understand exactly what you are saying, Commissioner Stern.  I understand that it's in your best interest to deflect blame from the League Office and yourself by associating any allegation of influencing games solely with the referees involved and by implying that if there is any blame it lies there.  I also understand you trying to make us sympathize with the players on two of the most popular teams in the league...people whom we are far more likely to view positively than yourself or the referees.  But just stop it.

Just in case, giving you the benefit of the doubt that you're actually making these statements with wide-eyed innocence and not cold, manipulative, media-savvy calculation, let me spell this out for you:

If these allegations are true, or even partially true, we don't blame the referees.  Yes, they might have worked the games, but they were comparatively low-level employees who were told to do their jobs in a certain way and did it.  It would have been nice to have a metaphorical whistle-blower among the literal ones but you can understand why there weren't any in such a small, insulated, elite cadre of professionals.  Isolated cultures breed exactly this kind of opportunity and this kind of behavior whether the rank and file within them will it or not.  Neither do we blame the players.  Though some were advantaged by it they--along with their coaches, fans, and management personnel--were victims here.  To the extent that these allegations are true we blame YOU, David Stern.  We blame you and the league office you shaped and ran.  You have been the Godfather of NBA basketball for a couple decades now.  Media people and your own employees quailed at your coming.  You charted the course of this sport as you thought best, for better or worse.  You have basked in the glow of the better.  You do not get to slyly deflect the spotlight you've held on to so long when the worse comes around.  Do not feel sorry for the refs.  Nobody cares about them.  Last summer one was exposed as out-and-out crooked...a cheat and lowlife.  After the initial story broke and subsided nobody mentioned his name for the better part of a year.  Do not feel sorry for the players.  They're always going to be loved.  Feel sorry for YOU, David Stern.  Start talking about yourself and your office.  That's where the bullseye is going to stay trained as long as this situation persists.  And no amount of double-talk is going to change that, no matter how hard you try.

When the accusation comes out that the league itself directed referees to unfairly influence games, for anyone to imply that the blame is being placed upon, or belongs upon, the refs is outrageous.  It's like blaming a ten-year old for stealing a candy bar when a 250 pound bodybuilder is standing behind him with a baseball bat demanding he do it or else.  When the Commissioner himself makes that implication it goes beyond outrageous into the realm of the disgusting.  You don't get to blame the victims here.  You don't get to throw your own employess under the bus.  You don't get to paint this as ref-on-ref violence that you are somehow above.  You don't get to hush inquisitive voices by standing near innocent people and playing on our heartstrings either.  The guy who starts the war can't absolve himself of accountability by crying, "Support the Troops!"  Been there, done that, had enough of it.  We all support the troops.  It's you we want to talk about.  Most of all you don't get to insinuate that asking questions about any of this is wrong or bad or hurtful.  That won't wash.

I'm not saying any of the accusations are true.  But true or not, these are inappropriate sentiments and this is an inappropriate reaction, period.  Even if the Commissioner is completely innocent, the way this is being handled--meaning every quote that's coming from him about Tim Donaghy, the refs, the Finals, and everything else--is making me think harder and harder about whether the league really does have something to hide.

--Dave (