When Doubt Creeps In
Can we believe in the NBA when David Stern’s controlling it?
by Allen Powell II
I believed in the NBA.
The League came into my life early, and while it wasn’t always a central part of my existence, it was still there. I remember going shopping as a child with my brother and mother for a Father’s Day gift, and understanding immediately that while my pops would love some Converse, the purple and gold ones were off-limits. Dad didn’t watch much basketball, but he still emphatically hated the Lakers.
Later, I can remember shedding tears when my favorite players failed, dancing in jubilation when they succeeded beyond all expectations. Before League Pass I remember desperately combing the sports section to see what numbers guys put up the night before and trying to re-enact those epic performances on random video games and blacktops.
For an entire year of college, I took loss after loss on NBA Live 98 and 99 because I stubbornly refused to play with any team but the Philadelphia Sixers. Back then, game designers lacked the skill to portray Allen Iverson’s one-on-one greatness and the rest of the team couldn’t shoot. So I lost, but I lost gladly because those losses meant I was loyal.
I was a believer.
But, this Chris Paul thing is a problem. Let’s be clear, it’s not a real problem in the grand scheme of life. It’s not a problem like the poverty and rampant gun violence that is slowly killing the city, my city, where Paul still plays. But, it’s still a problem.
For years, David Stern’s smugness and propaganda have been an irritant. His blatant bullying and asinine assurances about the random rogue nature of Tim Donaghy were ridiculous. His pandering to white, middle-America with the dress code and the crack down on fighting were evidence of a serious moral failure, in my opinion. But, I still believed in his League.
The outcomes of the game were real. There were constraints and maybe even a little bias, but I wasn’t looking for purity. I just wanted a League where everybody had a decent shot, and there was no Big Brother quietly steering everything behind the scenes. I wanted a League where any team who played the right way and got a few lucky breaks could be a champion.
That League doesn’t exist today. And even more troubling, we don’t know when it last existed. In kowtowing to the demands of owners who have proven to be petty, piss-poor managers of their own franchises, Stern permanently and completely eliminated his ability to receive the benefit of the doubt. That’s no small thing.
When you’re watching any powerful leader, the moment they lose the benefit of the doubt from media members or most of their constituents is the moment their downfall becomes virtually inevitable. You cannot maintain power without convincing most people that you know what you’re doing. You cannot wield power if most people doubt every word you say, and mistrust every decision you make. Well, you can’t wield it for long.
The now-infamous Chris Paul trade was a good trade for the New Orleans Hornets to make. On this point, everybody agrees. In a perfect sports world, the Hornets would not have been trading Paul, one of the few superstars in the League, because they would have surrounded him with talent and he would be happy to stay in New Orleans and compete for a championship But, the Hornets didn’t do that, and this must be noted.
Since drafting Chris Paul, the Hornets have used lottery picks to select Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, Julian Wright and Cole Aldrich. They’ve also drafted Marcus Thornton, Darren Collison and JR Smith. None of those players still play for the Hornets, and that is horrible. There main free-agent signings have been Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic and James Posey. None of them play for the Hornets either.
It’s understandable that Chris Paul was tired of waiting for his team to do its job and was ready to change teams. The Hornets understood this, and on Thursday, after months of speculation, their general manager made a basketball trade that few could fault. He flipped his superstar in return for three starters, a role player and a decent draft pick. It was the best available move, and it failed.
David Stern’s inability to control the worst impulses of his employers and his condescending belief that he should be able to control the lives of NBA players because he provides the means for them become millionaires killed the trade. Nothing else was responsible, no matter what the League or anyone else claims.
After five months of fans watching desperately as professional basketball reaffirmed its professional nature, David Stern permanently crippled the legitimacy of his League because of spite and hubris. So I don’t believe.
I can no longer smirk at conspiracy theorists. I cannot brush off concerns about Stern’s machinations. I cannot turn a deaf ear to the complaints of Sacramento Kings fans, Phoenix Suns fans and any other group of fans who believe in the depths of their hearts that somehow the NBA’s main office has it out for them.
How could I do that when it is so blatantly obvious that David Stern believes he gets to make decisions about what’s best for the game, regardless of the rules in place for everyone else to follow?
Who could believe in that?