Justice Is Served

June 6, 2010 12:01 PM

Stern warning to stars: Keep game in mind


The summit of the NBA stars won't happen. Whether the decision to forgo the free-agent gathering came in an edict from commissioner David Stern or was a simple rethinking of a bad idea doesn't matter.

While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others have the right to meet and plot a strategy that benefits them, they have a larger obligation: the state of the game.

They need to worry about that first.

For the NBA is in financial trouble, a point Stern has been stressing since the U.S. economy took a turn south. In the past year, the NBA lost a reported $400 million, hardly pocket change. Even a championship-caliber team like the Cavaliers saw its balance sheet land in the red. The Cavs sold out all their games at The Q, and the team had King James. Yet all of that didn't translate into a fat return on investment for owner Dan Gilbert.

Now, what happens to Gilbert's franchise if LeBron signs somewhere else? How attractive will the NBA product be overall if two or three free-agent stars cast their lot with a mega-market team like the Knicks or the Nets or the Bulls? What might their deck-stacking do for franchises like Memphis, Golden State, New Orleans, Cleveland, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Minnesota?

Again, what does their ham-handed attempt to alter the balance of power in favor of building one super-franchise do for those lesser markets?

Here's the answer: nothing good.  

If Memphis can't draw now, it will be less attractive to its fans, from game to game, when a vanilla, star-less franchise like Minnesota or Atlanta comes to the FedEx Center in February.

These aren't the issues fans should be talking about as the Lakers and Celtics revive a storied rivalry in the NBA Finals. The narrative for this series should be guiding coverage of the league, but the title games run second or third to all the contract issues and coaching moves that are grabbing daily headlines.

That's hardly what Stern wants. In his reign over the game, he has seen difficult times before. He has handled them deftly, steering the league to years and years of prosperity. Revenues have streamed into the league, which has become more and more of a global force.

While the NBA is not soccer, the league has its footprint all over the world. It has stars whose faces are recognizable from Shanghai to Siena. Aside from the NFL, the NBA has long been a model for other pro leagues to follow. It has been a civic asset in cities across the United States, and no sport promotes its stars better than the NBA does.

But a handful of stars seem bent on driving the league forward, and putting the league in their hands is like putting a 9-year-old behind the wheel of Ferrari and letting him drive his best friends to school. The idea has disaster written all over it. 

No one is suggesting that players like LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh have no role in charting the fortunes of the league. They should play a role, but they are not equipped to look at the broad view of it. How prepared is the unschooled James for the business end of basketball? Is he listening to his own counsel or weighing the advice of his entourage? Are their interests the same as Stern's or Gilbert's or Mark Cuban's interests? 

All of this is disturbing to men and women who follow the game. People have grown weary of listening to where LeBron or D-Wade will end up playing next season. 

They want this prattle to stop. So does Stern. 

He has the game's showcase event in front of him, but he's been confounded by the distractions that are marring what should be the focus of the sports universe. The last thing that Stern needs is a self-serving "Gang of Four" trying to take the game somewhere it does not need to go.

If the stars want to help the game, then build support in their home markets and stop conspiring to win a championship. Build one the old-fashioned way: making the team they're with competitive.





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