Bernucca column: Stupid is as stupid does

By Chris Bernucca

This NBA lockout is a 12-inch stupid sandwich.

The owners have been stupid in believing they could get back in one negotiation everything they have given away over the last 12 years. The players have been stupid in underestimating the backlash from a fickle fan base hit hard by a nationwide economic malaise.

And both sides have been extremely stupid in coming close enough to shake hands, then refusing to with the childish insistence of “You first!”

It is another in a long-running series of stupid NBA acts which we have chronicled here –the 12 dumbest decisions in the 12 years since the last lockout in 1999. Just call ’em the Dim-Witted Dozen.

No. 12. WHY STERN IS HATED IN ARIZONA: In the 2007 Western Conference finals, it was becoming evident that the Spurs could only hang with the Suns with rough stuff. Late in Game 4, Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table, touching off a benches-clearing incident that led to the Game 5 suspensions of Suns starters Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for coming off the bench to protect their star teammate. In defending his ruling, NBA VP Stu Jackson infamously said, “It’s not a matter of fairness. It’s a matter of correctness.” Jackson conveniently overlooked San Antonio’s Tim Duncan coming off his bench earlier in the same game. The shorthanded Suns lost the pivotal fifth game at home and the series. The Spurs went on to win the title.

11. TEAMLESS IN SEATTLE: It would be nice to learn that Clay Bennett isn’t one of the hard-line owners in the current labor dispute, because he has had nothing but good fortune since buying the Seattle SuperSonics in 2006. The Hornets spent two years showing Oklahoma City’s Ford Center was economically viable, lucked into franchise cornerstone Kevin Durant, and saved his investors a ton of money by hijacking the franchise to his home base, all the while telling basketball fans in Grunge City that was not his intention. Or was it?

10. MICHAEL JORDAN’S PANNED THREEQUEL: For you movie buffs, Jordan’s reincarnation with the Wizards was kind of like Terminator 3 or The Godfather Part III. It was a self-serving vehicle that was way too late in its arrival, unnecessary in advancing a story already complete, and devalued the trilogy as a whole. A knee injury, a puppet coach, and no playoff berths. How bad did it get? By the end, Jordan and his entourage were stealing reporter’s girlfriends.

9. WOLVES TRADE KEVIN GARNETT FOR A BAG OF HAMMERS AND FUTURE IRRELEVANCE: In return, Minnesota got Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo  Ratliff, Bassy Telfair, first-round picks that became Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn, and Al Jefferson, who eventually was shipped to Utah for Kosta Koufos, draft picks and a trade exception. Shrewd. Since the trade, the Wolves are 78-250 and the Celtics are 234-94 with two trips to the Finals and a Larry.

8. BLAZERS GO BIG, COME UP SMALL: I have to admit I was in the camp of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. As I often tell my son, when being big is no longer important in this game, I’ll be sure to let you know. But even if you compare Durant’s rookie season, – when he had a staggering 20 teammates on a lame-duck Seattle squad – to Oden’s second season – when he was one of eight lottery picks on a 54-win team – it’s not even close. Roll this one around your mouth: Oden has played 82 career games. Accused murderer Javaris Crittenton, taken 18 picks later, has played 113.

7. WE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT DEFIANCE: One year earlier, Allen Iverson had won over the old-school skeptics by carrying the Sixers to the Finals with his toughness and competitive spirit. In 35 minutes of spell-binding live TV, he undid all of that goodwill with a rambling, obscenity-laden car-wreck Q&A where he did everything from make all coaches collectively cringe to diss the late Phil Jasner’s playing ability to contribute a word to the urban dictionary.

6. THE MAMBA GETS LOOSE: In July 2003, Kobe Bryant nearly threw away his Hall of Fame career as if it were a bad pass. While in Colorado for offseason knee surgery, one of the faces of the NBA had sex with a 19-year-old hotel employee who brought rape charges against him. In an interview with police, Bryant was caught in a handful of lies; admitted he was worried about his career, image and endorsements; offered to financially settle the matter to keep it from getting back to his wife and the media; revealed another extramarital affair; and threatened to finish up with an act usually seen in porn movies, claiming, “That’s my thing.” He also forgot the woman’s name and admitted “she wasn’t that attractive.”

Bryant did lose endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella and attempted to smooth things over with his wife by buying her a $4 million ring. Ultimately, rape charges against Bryant were dropped when the woman said she was unwilling to testify, and he settled a civil lawsuit with her. But he became an easy target of catcalls at many NBA arenas and is still customarily booed in Denver to this day.

5. OWNERS MINDLESSLY APPROVE 2005 CBA: They got shorter contracts with smaller raises, more drug testing, an age limit and a one-time amnesty clause. But they lowered the accrued pension requirement, came down a year on early termination options, gave away a 3 percent increase on the team salary cap, promised an extra player to every team, increased the salary trade match limit to 125 percent and guaranteed the players 57 percent of BRI, which was not in the previous agreement and is why they are in this mess right now. And these are supposed to be the smartest guys in the room.

4. THE ISIAH THOMAS ERROR: After hiring Thomas in late 2003, Knicks chairman Jim Dolan became a modern-day Nero, playing his guitar while basketball’s Rome burned. Thomas was 56-108 as a coach and 151-259 with zero playoff wins in five full seasons as the man in charge. And those losses don’t even come close to the hundreds of millions of dollars he cost the Knicks with an endless litany of inept actions.

Where shall we start? How about the five coaching changes, including convincing Dolan that he was the right guy for the job? How about paying Larry Brown $18 million not to coach the final three years of his deal? How about the draft picks packaged in the Eddy Curry trade becoming LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah? How about outbidding himself with mid-level deals for Jerome James and Jared Jeffries? How about taking on the utterly insane cap-killing contracts of Quentin Richardson, Jerome Williams, Malik Rose, Penny Hardaway, Antonio Davis, Maurice Taylor, Shandon Anderson, Jalen Rose, Tim Thomas and Steve Francis? How about triggering an ugly 2006 brawl that resuscitated the NBA’s dormant perception as a “thug league” with his “Don’t go in the paint” dare to the Denver Nuggets? And how about his role in a sexual harassment suit that cost the team $11.5 million and prompted this diplomatic gem from Stern: “It demonstrates that they’re not a model of intelligent management.” You think?

3. THE MALICE AT THE PALACE: The ugliest moment in NBA history took place Nov. 19, 2004. And it all started when The Hell With World Peace – sorry, I mean Ron Artest – got the bright idea to go into the stands and beat up a fan, triggering a scene that looked like a reprise of the 12th Street Riots. Steven Jackson joined Artest in a tag team, Jermaine O’Neal cold-cocked one brazen fan and Jamaal Tinsley was swinging a dustpan at anyone in his way. How chaotic was it? Rasheed Wallace and World Wide Wes were among those attempting to restore order. And to top off matters, the kneejerk studio analysts at ESPN actually said the players were justified to enter the stands.

When David Stern handed out the suspensions, the Pacers had fewer players than Gene Hackman’s Hickory High squad. And less than six months removed from the worst-rated NBA Finals, the dreaded “thug league” moniker was back, accompanied by irrefutable, unforgettable video. As Bill Walton so eloquently put it, “This is a disgrace.”

2. GAME-FIXING? WHAT, ME WORRY? When the news broke that referee Tim Donaghy had been conspiring with gamblers to fix games, the NBA should have changed its logo from a silhouette of Jerry West to this, because that’s how clueless it had been to the obvious warning signs. While labeling Donaghy a “rogue,” the league’s ensuing investigation revealed that every referee casually gambled, putting the NBA over a barrel because it couldn’t fire its entire staff. Instead, the league hired a retired army general and overhauled its system to include more training, seminars and checkpoints while maintaining its reactive “second-guess” grading system.

The fallout from Donaghy continues to impact the league. In addition to the enhanced public perception that NBA games are not on the up-and-up, the overhaul of the officiating department may have impacted the recent resignations of – among others – Steve Javie, Bob Delaney, Mark Wunderlich, Joe DeRosa, Jack Nies and Joe Forte, all of whom worked NBA Finals games in the last five years. That’s a lot of skill, experience and integrity to replace.

1. THE DECISION TO BE A SELF-ABSORBED NARCISSIST: There was nothing wrong with LeBron James being intrigued by the process of free agency and wanting to go through it. There was nothing wrong with his desire to play with friends who just happened to be superstars. And there was nothing wrong with moving on from his home-state Cavaliers because he believed in his heart that his chances for a championship were better elsewhere. But how he went about it was a big bowl of wrong.

James had willing co-conspirators in the media – specifically ESPN, which pimped itself for the right to air “The Decision” and hijacked the story, built an entire day’s programming around it and acted as if there was nothing wrong with allowing its corporate side to make journalism decisions because, hey, we’re ESPN. But James was just as guilty, exposing himself as an attention hound and control freak, all the way down to hand-picking Jim Gray as the interviewer. Later that summer, he made things worse by attributing the backlash to race and promising multiple championships.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to His columns appear every Thursday.



  1. Dubs says

    What about the Gilbert Arenas gun debacle? Surely pulling a gun on his own teammate, as well as that teammate being charged with murder, is going to give a thug reputation more than any other fight during a game. Hockey players fight ALL the time, even baseball players get into fist fights, why are they thugs when it’s basketball players?

  2. Anon. says

    Ummmm, bad decisions, even extremely bad decisions, are part of the legacy of every sports league in the world. All of those still pale in comparisons to what you see in leagues here in Europe, which means you don’t know how good you got it with the NBA. At times it takes the perspective of a fan outside the U.S. to make you realize how good you got it.

    Hey, you could be stuck with owners like Sabatini, the one from Virtus Bologna. So I guess the alternatives are not that bad, after all.

  3. Buddahfan says

    Just listened to Stern being interviewed on WFAN 66 AM.

    Bottom line it definitely sounds to me like the Superstars are controlling the NBAPA position on key salary items so that the Superstars don’t risk getting hurt financially even it means a more competitive league and a better financial deal for the average and marginal players.

    In fact according to Stern and I doubt that he is lying about this. There was one key salary related item that was being discussed and Hunter was not in the room but Kobe, Pierce and KG were.

    Of course no NBA writer who values his inside position will write anything about this at the risk of being cut off from interviewing the Superstars. The other players don’t dare speak up publicly because they know the Superstars can make or break their careers due to the power that the Superstars hold.

    This all started with Michael and and has only apparently gotten worse.

    Like so many have written and talked about the NBA is a Superstars driven league the rest of the players be damned.

    • illyb says

      I lol’d during Stern’s hard cap, flex cap, luxury tax speech. Players don’t care if you give them a hard cap, they care if you give them a hard cap small enough to change the contract negotiation dynamics. Same with the flex and how punitive luxury taxes are. But you can really tell from the interview neither side really wants to make a deal they want what they want.

  4. says

    Excellent article sir, The NBA needs a new commissioner because commissioner David Sternis has made the game boring & it’s over regulated. The last straw for me was this new rule where you get a technical foul for complaining. it slowed the game way down and made it not fun to watch. I mean I love it when the players show a little emotion it’s part of the game. The referrers have way to much power and it’s all about them now. Commissioner David Sternis is a control freak and needs to be booted. “NBA lockout” I say NBA Fans boycott and show them we have a voice. Vote with your feet people.

    • Andrea (Italy) says

      Ummm, do you REALIZE the NBA is a business, correct? Stern has to respond to overzealous fans who can’t handle to see players screaming (look no further than comments sections where you can see plenty of casual fans going apocleptic as soon as they see a player complaining about a ref’s call, whether it is correct or not) and sponsors as well who threaten to drop their sponsorships if players don’t behave themselves. So Stern has to walk a very thin line to try to please everybody, which is an impossible task anyway. So those changes, among the others, are because of the things I just mentioned.

      So rest assured those changes would’ve happened regardless of who the commish was, whether it was Stern, Silver, Billy Hunter, you or I, even if you probably will not admit it since people like you have absolutely no idea how businesses are run. And all you are able to do is screaming “BOYCOTT!!!!!!” at the top of their lungs when things don’t go your way. No comment.

  5. Jacob says

    So if i understand what you are saying . . . it took Durant four years to win as many games in a season as Oden won his rookie year? Or did you intend to point out that Oden won more games in his rookie season than Durant won in his first two seasons.

    You can do weird things with numbers when you are looking for a desired result.

    To this day I have never heard any reasoned explanation for why the Blazers would have won more games since the ’07 draft if they had chosen Durant. Maybe, but i doubt it. It just doesn’t work that way. There are way too many variables. Save the what if stuff for the fantasy leagues.

    You are also the first person I have heard who admitted thinking Oden was the right pick at the time, but who somehow has convinced himself it was a stupid decision. Those are simply irreconcilable positions. It takes guts though, thats something. Better than most people who feel they have to go back and rewrite history saying they saw this coming all along.

    • Chris says


      IMO, the Blazers made the right choice at the time. Change-the-game 7-footers don’t come along very often, and I don’t know that anyone thought Durant would be a 30 ppg guy. But hindsight is always 20-20, and four years later it’s no contest. I feel bad for Oden because he’s not a bust. He’s this generation’s Sam Bowie. But he remains a question mark, while Durant is an exclamantion point. Thanks for reading. CB

      • Jacob says

        I hear you. I just don’t think you can play the “insert player X, get Y result” game.

        I’ll leave the Sam Bowie comparison for down the road. Oden still has potential and Durant is no Jordan. Right now he is more comparable to Dominique Wilkens.

        I like to think of Oden as more of a David Robinson. Right now Oden is just serving his time. Trade a Navy ship for an MRI machine and the comparison is pretty much perfect.

  6. Mike says

    You should have added the crooked officiating that gave the Lakers their championships. 2002 game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. In both games the Lakers were given a DISGUSTING free throw discrepancy in the 4th quarter which led to their wins.

    • Chris says


      If you’re suggesting that the officiating seemed tilted in those games, no argument. But I don’t buy Donaghy’s claim that the fix was in on Game 6 in 02. What was the plan – fix that game and then tell the Lakers, “OK guys, you’re on your own in Game 7 in Sacramento.” It was the toughest home court in the league at that point. The Kings lost that series in Game 4. Thanks for reading. CB

    • Anon. says

      If you seriously believe games are fixed you are nut. I keep saying it, the NBA is a league where EVERY SINGLE THING leaks out. They’re not able to hide anything at all, espcially in today’s world where technology dominates and things leak out one way or another. Just look at lockout negotiations. Things keep leaking out.

      In order to fix games you would have to have many people involved, lots of refs, execs etc, so do you seriously believe NOBODY would talk? Especially former refs or former employers? Do you believe phone calls or e-mail exchanges to talk about how to call games in favor of certain teams wouldn’t leak out? Or wouldn’t be intercepted? Good one!!

      Besides, I’d like to remind people that one of the refs of that unfamous game 6 was Bob Delaney, who by all account is a great guy, he even wrote a couple of books about his mentoring activity and also used to be an undercover police officer who fought against some of the worst crime organizations out there. So do you really believe he would accept to fix games in favor of certain teams? Doesn’t seem to me he’d be a guy doing that.

      Like I always say, conspiracy theorists are people who don’t have their facts checked. If they were more knowledgeable then maybe they would think twice before coming up with those arguments.

      And another thing, the Kings got a few pivotal calls going their way in game 5 so it all evens out at the end of the day…and in game 7 still had the chance to win, but missed free-throws and a key air-ball from Peja doomed them, so it’s not like they couldn’t win. I’m just sayin’.


      • Chris says

        Interesting take. Here’s mine, shared by Marc Stein at ESPN. The premise behind fixing games would be to make money. If that was the case, why would the NBA “allow” the Spurs reach (and win) four Finals in nine years. They play in the country’s 40th-largest market and their Finals are among the lowest rated in history. And the Finals ratings go a long way toward setting the ad rates. CB


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