Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stern Vs. Rome! Fight!

I admit, in the Jim Rome vs. David Stern tempest in a teapot, I have to go with Stern. Rome's a bully, a jackass who built his career on schoolyard taunting a guest into taking a swing at him. He regularly incites his listeners to abuse their subject matter and each other (and no doubt there's a ton of self-abuse going on as they dream about getting on-air for a SmackDownTM). His interviews tend to hit one of two poles: complete suck-ups, or smarmy insults phrased as questions, the "So when did you stop beating your wife?" bullcrap that Stern correctly called him on. And when he does get called on it, he hides behind the "Hey, I'm just the guy asking the questions" excuse, cheerfully ignoring the fact that sometimes, giving a stupid question play is as good as believing in it.
Which leads to the question he asked Stern, namely, was the NBA draft lottery fixed. This is a stupid question, and an insulting one. Smarter people than have pointed out that no matter who got the first pick, there would have been accusations the whole kit and kaboodle was rigged. New Orleans? That's Stern doing the new owner a favor (or bestowing one last good-night kiss on a team the league briefly owned, take your pick.) Charlotte, he's doing Michael Jordan a solid. Brooklyn, hey, we want stars in New York, right? It goes on and on and on, and it feeds on itself. It's not just the draft, either. Go to any NBA discussion board and half the content is conspiracy theory. They're not calling fouls on LeBron because The League wants Miami to win. They froze the envelope so the Knicks could get Ewing. On and on and on, and above it all sits the grinning, Machiavellian spectre of David Stern, puppetmaster extraordinaire.
And that's where we get into the deeply insulting aspect. The business Stern runs - and I confess, I'm not a huge fan of his, either - is one based on the notion of honest competition. The day the perception that the NBA is rigged moves out of the comments sections and into the conventional wisdom is the day the NBA dies. And the question Rome really asked David Stern is this: Are you a crook? Are you cheating your customers and the cities that host your teams? Are you lying to your fans? Are you actively engaged in what can only be described as criminal fraud? Because that's what "Was the lottery rigged?" really means. It implies Stern rigged it, and that he and his entire enterprise are crooked.
Think about how you'd react if someone asked you that question. I'm guessing, probably not well. Rome got off light; Stern saw his bullshit for what it was and called him on it precisely. And then Rome turned around and played the martyr - always the last resort of the bully - to his fans and his peers, because the big mean commissioner was mean to him. And then the next day, Rome was back to talking smack and smirking, same as always.
But if you ask me, Stern won this smackdown. And if for just a second Rome felt the slightest bit queasy about the sleazy stuff he was doing, then it was worth all the fallout and yammering and geshrying. And if we're really lucky, maybe there's a question Rome won't ask next time, because of this.
Or at least we can hope.

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