The boys over at the Basketball Jones made an excellent point in this morning's cast: What happened to that Donaghy scandel? Wasn't this supposed to be the national basketball nightmare? Weren't we not going to be able to watch a game without wondering about every iffy calls? I certainly could never have guessed that I would be sitting here in February and have not had a thought about our pal Donaghy in weeks. I also didn't think the Suns would ever trade for Shaq, but that's another absurdity for another time.
I would add this to the BJ's observation: it is high time we all stood up and thanked the heavens for David Stern. Now, I know, it's not cool to like the principal. It's bad form to nuzzle up to the bossman. But why wait for his retirement party to thank the guy? He will no doubt go down as the best Commish of his generation. It is hard to imagine that he will not live on as the NBA's best Commish of all-time (unless of course we all lose our perverse fascination with "bests of all-time.") It's even harder to imagine that any Commish could have handled the Donaghy scandal better.
Is the Lig the best its ever been? No. But we also don't have Magic, Bird, Jordan, Charles, Hakeem, Ewing, Robinson, Stocklone, Nique, Zeke, and on and on. And by my estimation, we are just hitting a Renaissance. Clearly, despite our protests, if you're reading this post, you LOVE this game.
Is Lig success all due to Stern's stewardship? Clearly not. But the evil Commish has fooled the masses. He has never run away from, and seems to relish, his position as spit-upon Hall Monitor. And, in doing so, he has allowed the Lig not only to flourish but transform and evolve with the game itself. He has mastered the art of experimenting, stepping hard, and then being more than tolerant of admitting when he has been wrong.
Let's take two examples: the dress code and the more stringent techfoul rules. In both cases, Stern made the line clear and enforced the rule heavily. The message was sent and received: because the Lig has become a billions-dollar business, players need to grow up a bit. And then...what happened to the dress code? KG wears a P-coat to the Minnie game. What happened to the techs? Sheed yells "ball don't lie" with impunity.
What happened was the magic of Stern's iron touch. He pushes hard, makes an often-needed point, and then steps back and allows for mutually-understood compromise. This is no velvet glove. He does not pretend to be the saint and then sock it to us. He has an iron touch. He stewards the Lig by poking hard and then allowing for the ripples to settle comfortably. He does the majority of his work behind the scenes so as to allow for pragmatic agreements without 24-hour media distortion. But he does not run and hide. He stays accountable and admits when he is wrong. O lordy, that god-awful plastic basketball. Nice try, David.
- The embrace of foreign players.
- The Donaghy scandal.
- The allowance of the zone and the d-3.
- The cleaning up of the game (especially the elimination of hand-checks.) I'm sorry. For all you "purists" out there who think the 90s-grind-it-out style was the epitome of good ball, you can go and enjoy your 70 pt barn-burners over on the Classic.
- I'd also add the rookie age min, the D-Lig, the 15-man roster, the one-time amnesty rule...but those are a bit touchier and for a different post.
Even the playoff-seeding changes this year have been underappreciated. If only we cheered as loudly as we boo...It's high time we all thank the Stern. And I for one will put him on my Christmas list as soon as I finish my Bar Mitzvah thank you notes.