Sports League Commissioners Taking It On The Chin


Interesting times in both the NHL and NBA. 2 leagues run by very bright guys, with similar background and histories both who have lead their respective sports through both troubled times and times of prosperity as well.

Both own teams too by the way, a strange thing for sports leagues to do, wouldn’t you say?

Both, today seem to be embattled in ways that they haven’t been before.

Bettman has been touting record growth ever since he cancelled a season several years back. He’s become much like Leslie Neilson in those Naked Gun movies, “move along nothing to see here”. Call it arrogance, ego, confidence, or just plain salesmanship Bettman’s persona is unwavering. He clearly acts as if he is the smartest guy in the room, always with a smug smirk that would anger the saints in heaven.

Very few teams are still owned by the same group that was in place when Bettman came to power. Some teams have been flipped several times. New teams, moved teams, new networks, new jerseys, glowing pucks and league owned franchises are all the hallmark of the Bettman era.

Now, he is about to lead the charge into the abyss one more time in attempt to secure an even better deal than the last one he certainly believed he won easily.

The difference, is that the main street media aren’t being so kind to Bettman this time around. That’s not to say that all members of the media were before, however we are starting to see those who more understanding taking a very different stance.

Today for example, Adam Proteau on the hockey news website take a couple of pretty good shots at Bettman:

But this time around, fans and the hockey media who are supposed to represent them have reason to be much more skeptical than they were nearly eight years ago. This time, there is no overriding principle worthy of shuttering the league’s doors for a full season.

This time, you believe what you hear at your own risk.

Personally, I’m not buying anything coming out of the league offices and their faithful water-carriers in the press. That’s not to say I’m locked arm-in-arm with the NHLPA; if you’ve read my work before, you understand I’ve criticized them for putting profit over player safety and on many other issues – including their aversion to the salary cap and preference for untenable disparities in roster quality.

In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter what guys like Proteau think or write. Bettman inc. is going to do whatever Bettman wants.

Generally speaking, in sports labor disputes fans side with management because they can’t understand how greedy players won’t play the games we all would die to for whatever the owners are offering.

In the past I think there was a general consensus that the players were overpaid.

We all know that no one is in the sports ownership business to lose money either.

To the extent public opinion matters, will this be the first time the many side with the players?

It will be interesting to see this play out.

I can tell you this, I don’t ever remember a commissioner as universally hated as Bettman appears to be by hockey fans. Fans were so drunk on winning the other night I am not sure they would have booed anyone.

Meanwhile, in the NBA David Stern is really taking it on the chin.

I am sure you’ve either read or heard about his interview with Jim Rome.


Basically, Rome asked Stern to comment on the fact that some people felt that draft lottery was rigged by virtue of the fact that the league owned club won the lottery. Stern’s reaction was quite incredible, asking Rome if he had stopped abusing his wife. Rome who doesn’t appear to be offended by much showed a side many of his listeners aren’t used to hearing and tried to almost apologize or restate the question and Stern was just relentless on Rome.

“Well, you know, it’s good copy, and you do things sometimes for cheap thrills,” Stern said.
“I did not do that for a cheap thrill,” Rome answered.
“Well, that’s what it sounds like,” Stern said.
“No, not at all,” Rome answered. “See, that’s where you and I — that’s our point of disconnect. That was not a cheap thrill and I was not throwing anything against the wall, and I was trying to be as respectful as possible. I’m just saying that people wonder about that. And here’s what I don’t want to do — I don’t want to say, ‘Hey commissioner, people would say …’ Because I’m going to ask a direct question. But people do wonder. But that was not a cheap thrill. I got no thrill out of that.”
“Well, it’s a cheap trick,” Stern said.
“No, flopping is a cheap trick,” Rome said.
“Well, no. But listen, you’ve been successful at making a career out of it, and I keep coming on, so …” Stern said.
“Making a career out of what, though, commissioner?” Rome interrupted. “See, I take great offense to that. Making a career of what? Cheap thrills?”

I actually feel squeamish reading that don’t you. Wow- what an uncomfortable interview for both guys.

I don’t know who I dislike more in the exchange.

Personally I think Rome knew exactly what he was doing asking the question.

Was it a fair question?

Well, people think the fix is in all the time in sports. It’s true that people think it, I think it’s a fair enough question, however I think the answer is pretty predictable. In all honesty, what’s he supposed to say besides, no, the fix wasn’t in. It wasn’t such an obvious question that Rome HAD to ask it, therefore I think he is on the hook for knowing or predicting how Stern would react.

You can read the whole transcript here.

However, Adrian Wojnarowski, one of the best and most universally respected NBA writers in the business really went after Stern in response.

“Once, Stern was a great commissioner: tough, respected and leading a vision that inspired a global transformation of the NBA. Those days are gone, and now most in the NBA tap their feet, stare at the ground and harbor hope they’re reading Silver right. They think Silver will be more open-minded, less dictatorial and ultimately introduce an era where the league office acts like an ally, not Big Brother.
Until then, no one will push out Stern. No one will tell him it’s time to go. He is still the best mind in the sport, but his spirit is different. Every day, the commissioner chips away at his own legacy, his own league, and it’s kind of sad to see. He’s irritable, tired and he should start walking toward the door. David Stern was a great commissioner, but he owes himself a graceful goodbye. Mostly, he owes the NBA.”


How do you really feel.

Stern isn’t in the same position as Bettman. He just came out of a lockout. He makes great money in TV revenue. He’s on the verge of selling his franchise. All isn’t 100% rosey, but it certainly isn’t the NHL is it.

Adrian isn’t the first scribe to come out swinging at Stern. He’s the first one to do it this way and with such vigor.

No, not in the same boat as Bettman, but no less than equally as intriguing to watch develop.


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mike (in boston)
mike (in boston)
June 15, 2012 4:34 am

Stern’s reaction was quite incredible, asking Rome if he had stopped abusing his wife.

i thought this was a well known way of pointing out that a question was unfairly loaded. Stern’s a lawyer and was merely objecting to the question asked.

Rome’s question could have been worded much more clearly, but Stern’s response was way out of line. The draft has worked out a little too perfectly in some cases (Lebron, Michael Jordan, Ewing, and now this) and so it is totally fair for people to wonder if this as a result of the league’s meddling. Stern should have handled that much more professionally. This just makes him look defensive.

Another Steve
Another Steve
June 15, 2012 8:21 am

After hearing the response from Stern, I must admit, it was the first time that I liked the fellow in a long time.

When someone alleges that your league is corrupt it is a no-win response.

Sounds to me like Adrian Wojnarowski has some real issues with Stern that he is not sharing, since I thought Stern’s tone in response to Rome was dead-on. It was a rhetorical device – no serious person really believes that he was alleging spousal abuse.

But maybe it would have been more amusing had Stern kept calling Rome “Chrissie Evert” instead of saying this.

June 15, 2012 10:41 am

Not sure how the league conspired anything in the Jordan draft, unless David Stern made Portland pick Sam Bowie.

Rome is and always has been a smarmy provacateur and his success (along with people like Cowherd and Skip Bayless) is always disheartening.

Mike S
Mike S
June 15, 2012 12:32 pm

Alex is right……………Jordan was picked 3rd overall in 1984 so I don’t know how the league could have orchestrated that………..and the draft lottery didn’t start until 1985 anyway

Orlando won the draft lottery in 1992 and got Shaq…………..did the league fix the lottery that year?……………..the Spurs got David Robinson and Tim Duncan……………….did the league fix the lotteries those years?

I guess what I am saying is that I am not one of those people that thinks the fix is in when it comes to the NBA draft lottery

Truck Turner
Truck Turner
June 18, 2012 3:59 pm

I think Rome’s question was not only a valid one, but one which Stern had undoubtedly addressed from other sources within the last few weeks, though by all accounts he addressed them in a more measured, less condescending fashion previously. Rome even mentioned after the fact that the question was, if anything, not merely a softball question but a volleyball question, lobbed into the air with every expectation that Stern, who had conducted more than a dozen interviews with Rome over the years, would spike it down as absurd conspiracy theorizing (which is how Rome himself prefaced the question). Asking the question—a source of daily speculation among NBA fans—wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Stern’s defensive, obnoxious response actually wound up making him *seem* guilty, if not of that particular transgression then of…something. It was impossible to listen to David Stern’s live response to that question and come away thinking, “Huh. Now there’s a man with absolutely nothing to hide…” I suspect a good many people who thought the level of Stern’s interference in a variety of on-court issues was nothing out of the ordinary were probably giving the matter more thought after that interview.

Now Rome, to his credit, recognized Stern’s reply immediately as the rhetorical device that it was, and made a point of saying as much to angry listeners unfamiliar with that particular phrase within that particular context. The problem with its use, apart of it being an obviously inflammatory phrase unfamiliar to many laymen in that context, is that the question *wasn’t* a loaded one. “Is the draft lottery fixed?” is, in itself, only loaded if the answer is yes and the subject is unprepared to convincingly deflect the question. “How long has the lottery been fixed?” is a loaded question. “Is it fixed?” is a direct question, requiring only one unambiguous yes or no response. Stern’s handling of the question—again, not one being brought to him for the first time—and his belaboured efforts to shoot the messenger in this one singular instance reflected poorly on him, on the league he represents, to say the least.

As to the idea of Rome as provocateur, I think to many the perception of him was set in stone with the Jim Everett incident of nearly twenty years ago. That Jim Rome WAS a button-pushing provocateur, and I think he’d be the first to acknowledge as much. But setting aside his emphatic delivery and sometimes-shameless front-running, the truth of the matter is that Rome seldom actually asks hardball questions, let alone deliberately provocative ones. Like most celebrity interviewers, he seems obviously concerned about future access, and as such really doesn’t bait subjects in the way that those only casually familiar with him seem to think he does. He does ask direct questions, but seldom without prefacing them in such a way as to prepare the subjects for what’s coming, and to perhaps let them know that he isn’t specifically using it as troll fodder, even taking pains to distance his own opinion from the question itself. I don’t think Rome is a particularly good interviewer, but I think his failings are more ones of sycophancy than of baiting. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him baiting a subject in the twelve years that I’ve (admittedly irregularly) listened to his show.

A little Jim Rome goes a long way, but his “Chris” Everett days are long behind him, and I think Stern’s behaviour in this instance was entirely disproportionate to the question being asked of him, particularly since it wasn’t exactly his first exposure to the issue being addressed.

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