Hubbard Column: Comedy, perhaps, but was that Gumbel’s intention?

One element previously missing from NBA negotiations was introduced last week, and we have Bryant Gumbel to thank for that. At a time when NBA fans were at their most depressed about the potential loss of the season, Gumbel took matters into his own vocal cords and provided a little comic relief.

Thanks, Bryant. We needed that.

Hard to believe, but some were offended by Gumbel’s suggestion on his HBO show Real Sports that David Stern was like a “plantation overseer.”

Come on. That was just Bryant being Bryant. You know, he probably jokes about the fact that he hosts a program that includes six other correspondents — four white men and two white women – and who has ever had issue with that? If he wanted to be nasty, Gumbel would have made comparisons to Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Quaddafi, Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson or Al Capone.

But did he?

Absolutely not.

The man knows restraint.

In the same monologue, Gumbel also referred to Stern as “the NBA’s infamously egocentric commissioner,” and some were offended by that. But, again, it was a comment that was misconstrued. It was not a shot at Stern – it was a compliment. Who better to recognize egocentrism than the overly-pious Gumbel? And what greater praise than essentially saying, “He’s just like me!”

Even Charles Barkley, the ultimate merry prankster, reacted strongly, calling Gumbel’s comments “stupid.”

Hey Charles, you and every other NFL fan had to endure Gumbel attempting to do play-by-play on the NFL Network for two years. How smart was he to subject himself to one of the few things he did horribly in his career? Gumbel was perhaps the only announcer in history who made the NFL boring. You think he doesn’t know that? I once asked Magic Johnson to rate himself on his late night show, which lasted eight weeks in 1998.

“I was horrible,” Magic said.

The great ones know when they are great; and when they are not.

If Gumbel was trying to insult Stern, who certainly has acted in such a way to deserve criticism, he could have done better. In fact, he did something previously presumed to be impossible – he turned Stern into a sympathy figure, especially among veteran NBA writers who are of the same ethnicity as Gumbel.

But if such a large number of people are confused by Gumbel’s comments, perhaps it is true that he could use a little help with his comparisons. If that many people are upset about a little misplaced humor, maybe in the future, Gumbel should get a second opinion. Consider this a modest beginning. These suggestions might need some work, but at least they provide a starting point. And let’s not limit this to basketball.

1. Subject: Bud Selig

Possible Gumbel comparison: Dan Quayle.

Comment: “Finally tonight, when he was vice president, Dan Quayle didn’t even know how to spell potato (p-o-t-a-t-o-e).

“And when sluggers began growing biceps that looked like California Redwoods and jacked baseballs out of stadiums at a rate that made Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth look modest, Bud Selig said he had no clue. He looked like a kid in the national spelling bee who had just been asked to spell “pococurante” and responded by thrusting his hands in his pockets, then nodded like a bobblehead and later said he knew nothing. Presumably, he thought they were on a high-carb diet.

“Suffice it to say that Bowie Kuhn was hardly known as the greatest baseball commissioner. But Bud, I have to say you are no Bowie Kuhn.”

2. Subject: Paul Allen

Possible Gumbel comparison: HAL 9000

Comment: “Finally tonight, when Portland owner Paul Allen entered the negotiating room last week, it was like astronaut David Bowman entering various rooms to shut down the computer modules that made HAL 9000 functional in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Allen did not speak, but dominated the room with eerie body language that is indigenous only to those whose fortunes are measured in 11 figures.

“He wanted the players to beg, to admit that everything had not been quite right with their demands. Then he wanted their assurance that everything would be all right. They didn’t give it to him. And so like the vicious multi-billionaire programmer that he is, he disconnected them.”

3. Subject: Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner

Possible Gumbel connection: Harry Dunne of Dumb & Dumber

Comment: “Finally tonight, Adam Silver has consistently regurgitated David Stern’s ridiculous assertion that all teams should have the ability to compete for a title. That includes teams owned by such monuments to competition as the detestable Donald Sterling, a man seemingly limited in every aspect of life except the ability to make money.

“Silver’s sanctimonious assertion is reminiscent of Harry Dunne telling Lloyd Christmas in Dumb & Dumber, “Just when I thought you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this . . . and totally redeem yourself!”

Admittedly, those comparisons are not quite as sensational as “plantation overseer,” which, perhaps, would be a problem for Gumbel. There is the sneaking suspicion that as silly as Gumbel’s attack on Stern seemed, it was more about bringing attention to Gumbel than it was to intelligently comment on the NBA labor dispute.

Regardless, Gumbel does have free speech rights as an American citizen, and those do not expire when the HBO camera lights are turned on. So he can say what he wants, rant at the top of his lungs and be as outrageous as possible even if it is for no other reason than to get attention.

But I do feel compelled to note that people who seem so desperate to bring attention to themselves have a tendency to not be taken seriously. Suffice it to say that if I’m ever in a crowded theater and Bryant Gumbel walks in and screams “fire,” I won’t be leaving my seat.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. His columns will appear every Tuesday on Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.



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