It is often said that David Stern is the best commissioner in pro sports. To be fair, his competition isn’t exactly what one would deem as “strong”—Garry Bettman lords over a practically non-existent league, Bud Selig has been the butt end of jokes more times than Kevin Federline (OK, that’s a bit of a stretch), and Roger Goodell is too new at his job to count. Stern rules over what is arguably the most popular league in the world; and many say he does so with an iron fist.
This season he took things to a new level by introducing a wildly unpopular new basketball, giving more power to the refs in an effort to crackdown on player complaints, and made changes to players’ on court attire. He did all of this without consulting the players or their union. They were pissed, and rightfully so. Four days ago, the NBA Player’s Union filed a lawsuit against the league; they filed two unfair labor practice charges.
Stern, to the surprise of some (including yours truly), has decided to take a diplomatic approach to the situation. Today, in an interview posted on the New York Times website, he acknowledged that the way in which the league introduced the new ball was misguided, that they should have consulted the players beforehand: “In hindsight, we could have done a better job.”
Stern also said that the league will be going back to Spalding, the ball’s manufacturer, to address the players’ complaints about the new ball:
“But if our players are unhappy with it, we have to analyze to the nth degree the cause of their unhappiness. Everything is on the table. I’m not pleased, but I’m realistic. We’ve got to do the right thing here. And, of course, the right thing is to listen to our players. Whether it’s a day late or not, we’re dealing with this. I won’t make a spirited defense with respect to the ball, Stern told the Times. With respect to the ball, I take responsibility for that.”
Stern did not address the charge regarding the refs, but you can be sure something will be done about it before things get out of hand. The last thing the NBA needs is another date in court.
In recent days and weeks, some people, when not too busy making “Don’t close the NBA” videos, went as far as to call for David Stern’s resignation in light of the unpopular league-wide changes. This, of course, is completely insane. He is the best at what he does. And sure, this may just be a political move to get the players’ union to cool off, but it’s still a step in the right direction. For all intents and purposes, Stern is the players’ boss. One of the signs of a good boss is someone who listens and takes his employees seriously; for now anyway, Stern is doing just that.