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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bryant Gumbel: David Stern Is Eager to be Viewed as a ‘Plantation Overseer’

Bryant Gumbel received attention five years ago when he suggested NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had players association leader Gene Upshaw on a leash. Now he’s going after another leader in a sports labor debate: NBA commissioner David Stern.

In his closing monologue on HBO Real Sports Tuesday, Gumbel charged Stern with holding up progress in NBA labor talks. He also said Stern views himself as a plantation owner who presides over the players like they’re hired help.

Here is his entire monologue, as transcribed by Ben Golliver at Eye on Basketball (with video below).

“Finally, tonight, if the NBA lockout is going to be resolved any time soon, it seems likely to be done in spite of David Stern, not because of him,” Gumbel said. “I say that because the NBA’s infamously egocentric commissioner seems more hellbent lately on demeaning the players rather than his game’s labor impasse.

“How else to explain Stern’s rants in recent days? To any and everyone who would listen, he has alternately knocked union leader Billy Hunter, said the players were getting inaccurate information, and started sounding ‘Chicken Little’ claims about what games might be lost if players didn’t soon see things his way.

“Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.

“Some will of course cringe at that characterization but Stern’s disdain for the players is as palpable and pathetic as his motives are transparent. Yes, the NBA’s business model is broken. But to fix it, maybe the league’s commissioner should concern himself most with the solution and stop being part of the problem.”

Gumbel is out of place as a play-by-play man, but he can still bring it when it comes to editorializing. However, I think he’s off base in some respects.

Stern has always struck me as an egocentric commissioner who is equal parts smarmy and arrogant. He acted like questions regarding referees were beneath him, even though one of his referees was part of one of the biggest scandals in sports. “The NBA having crooking referees? Who us?” that’s the sort of thing Stern would say as Tim Donaghy was being taken away in handcuffs.

I don’t disagree with Gumbel’s characterization of Stern, I just feel the commissioner’s denigration of people is not exclusive to the players. Stern acts like he’s a big boss and everyone else is his pawns. The owners, the players, the reporters, and the fans are all pieces Stern manipulates. He knows it, and he knows he’s running a billion dollar enterprise from which he earns a multi-million dollar salary. Why else do you think he has such a smug grin on his face whenever he talks?

Here’s a video of Gumbel’s closing remarks:

Thanks to Paulie Pabst for the initial heads up.

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