Friday, December 9, 2011

The Empire Strikes Back: David Stern Steps In

Last night, the Hornets, Rockets and Lakers completed a three-team deal which sent All-Star Chris Paul to the Lakers.  But then they didn't.  In the era of good feelings following the end of the NBA Lockout, teams wheeled and dealed (whelt and dealt?) for the chance to acquire either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard (or both).  It seemed that the veil of negativity had lifted from the NBA, and teams and players alike looked forward to doing what all professional athletes and franchises do best- Get Paid.

But The League didn't account for one thing: the Commissioner.

As the tzar of the NBA since 1984, Stern has held almost complete control over NBA ownership, creating a unified front in negotiations and decision making for nearly a quarter century.  However, as the NBA ownership demographic has shifted from older owners invested for the long-term towards younger owners with expectations of short-term returns, Stern's influence has waned.  The recent lockout only served to drive that point home - many owners' statements ran counter to Stern's statements, and Stern's strong-arm approach to negotiations came across as more Andropov than Stalin.

Enter Chris Paul: the latest in a line of NBA stars to attempt to force a trade in a contract year to have his cake and eat it too (choosing his team and getting the salary benefits of resigning instead of entering free agency).  This issue was one the new CBA tried and failed to address, but now the vicious cycle was repeating itself.  And David Stern wouldn't stand for it.

The vetoing of the Chris Paul trade by the league office will have an immediate, tangible impact; today the players involved in the trade had to report to training camp (or not) and face their teammates and team officials, and Chris Paul is preparing to do his best Oscar Robertson impersonation and sue the NBA.  However, the psychological impact of this decision by Stern is much more interesting.  Sports fans tend to view every franchise as sovereign, independent to do as it pleases (unless you're Frank McCourt), but the reality is much different - David Stern just crossed the same line that he and other league executives (Bud Selig, for instance) have toed for decades.  Our shock at his willingness to attempt to control superstar movement between franchises speaks to the naivety of sports fans as much as the audacity of David Stern.

Joe Silvestro is a regular contributor to Sports Casual, check back every Funday Friday for his witticisms concerning the Wide World of Sports.  Email him at


  1. half century:

    (you can't have a hyperlink in the comments section, so i had to use tinyurl to not give it away)

  2. I understand the need to put a foot down and stop some of these shenanigans, but why now? And what does it mean next time Chris Paul gets traded somewhere?

    And for the love of god, will anyone buy the Hornets???

  3. Great article on Grantland with a very simply suggestion as to "why now" - this trade would create an additional salary obligation of over $60 million for the Hornets

  4. Lost in this is the fact that David Stern may have saved Khloe and Lamar's marriage by keeping him in LA.

    That has to count for something