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 SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Thursday.