Sheridan: Open Letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern

Commissioner David Stern
Olympic Tower
Fifth Avenue
New York, NY, USA, 10020

Hey, Dave:

Some gold medal game, eh? Guess what happened back here in the States?

They showed the whole USA-Spain match (pardon my FIBAism) on NBC Sports Channel without any commercials. That’s right, without any commercials!

Who had that in the office pool?

Nobody, right? It would have been like picking Tunisia.

That’s the thing about the Olympics, Dave … you never quite know what’s going to happen by the time the final day of the whole shebang comes down. And when that once-ever-four-years moment comes around, it’s fasten your seatbelt time –whether you are sitting in the stands at the game itself, like you, or sitting on a sofa back in suburbia, like me.

Once every four years.

It’s both a shame and a blessing that it happens so seldom. It makes us appreciate FIBA basketball (a superior product to your own) all the much more, and then it tends to make us forget just how special Olympic basketball can be by the time the next four-year cycle has run its course. And it’s not just Americans, Dave. The bookmakers around London had Spain as high as a 25-1 underdog in the hour before tipoff.

Yup, 25-1 for a team with two Gasols and the guy (Serge Ibaka) who got robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award because be plays in Oklahoma City instead of New York City, plus another guy (Juan Carlos Navarro) who found the whole NBA scene so tasteless and devoid of true passion that he left after one year in Memphis to return to Spain, where you don’t need some guy with a t-shirt gun to get the fans out of their seats.

I hope you got to congratulate our guys afterward in the locker room, and I especially hope you gave a shout-out in that room to LeBron James. Folks can love him or hate him, but he is having a better year than anyone on this planet. We’re all being treated to the sight of this man-child finally transforming into a man, and it was a long time coming.

Which brings us to you, David, and your plan to meet with FIBA chairman Patrick Baumann to push for an age restriction that would limit the Olympics to players 23 and under. A word of advice: Don’t be as disingenuous as your deputy, Adam Silver, was when he said y’all were making the push in the best interest of the foreign NBA players, whose federations’ standards of medical care are not up to snuff with American standards. Yes, Sasha Vujacic may once have had a sprained knee ligament treated with olive oil; but no, that is not reason enough to break out the dynamite.

The American and the non-American players have spoken loud and clear over the course of these Olympics, as USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, and they all have spoken with passion.

Nobody agrees with you on this, David.

Nobody. (OK, Mark Cuban agrees with you, as do a few other NBA owners. We all understand that you work for them —  although your dictatorial manner would suggest otherwise — and we all understand that you know where your bread is buttered.)

But a word to the wise on this one. Back off.

Permit me to repeat myself in all caps:


Nobody in America wants to see a World Cup of Basketball that would be open to players of all ages, which you claim would make up for the absence of those over the age of 23 in the Olympics.

Yes, that is the way they do it in soccer.

But soccer is a worldwide monster whose popularity basketball will never equal, at least not in our lifetimes. Soccer also has roughly a dozen teams with the ability to win the World Cup. Basketball has two — we Americans, and the Spanish.

A generation from now the playing field might be a little more level, but let’s face it: This is the sport in which the United States sends its most dominant team(s) — no, Dave, I haven’t forgotten about our women and their 20-year winning streak — and its most high-profile athletes. With all due respect to Michael Phelps, he could walk down any street in the middle of Manhattan and go unnoticed for block after block after block. James Harden couldn’t even do that, to say nothing of the 10 guys ahead of him in the rotation who will be flying home tomorrow with gold medals around their necks.

From the sound of things, Baumann is going to tell you to back off anyway. He has 220 national federations to deal with, and he is not afraid of you, nor will he allow himself to be bullied by you. As much as Baumann wants the World Cup or the World Championship to be a bigger event, he is not going to cut off his left hand to make sure his right hand becomes more useful.

You can fool some of the people some of the time, and most of the people most of the time if your last name happens to be Stern. Didn’t you have the universe convinced a year ago that the NBA needed to shut down for at least a year to get a financial system in place that would allow the Bobcats and Bucks of the NBA to compete with the Heats and the Lakers?

In this case, you are trying to fool a global audience of billions with your 23-and-under nonsense.

And you know what? The world will hate you if you push forward with this ill-advised scheme. You think it’s already bad enough that they boo you when you hand out the championship trophy, that they boo you as lustily when you call the 30th pick of the draft as they do when you call out the first pick?

I know you are comfortable being the designated bad guy. It goes with the territory in a job like yours.

But for your sake, and for the sake of all Americans (because you speak for us when you are on foreign soil), come to your senses on this and back off.

(RELATED CONTENT: David Stern Wants to Ruin The Olympics, Part I)

(RELATED CONTENT: David Stern Wants to Ruin the Olympics, Part II)

It’s already bad enough that we have to endure three timeouts in every fourth quarter of every NBA playoff game  — timeouts that last 3 minutes. It’s bad enough that the guy with the t-shirt gun is often the only guy that can roust fans from their seats. It’s bad enough that the referees and their video-review system have slowed the pace of the NBA game to an even slower crawl.

Leave the Olmypics alone!

It is the one breath of fresh air that we get once every four years. It ain’t broken, so don’t try to fix it. If anything, try to emulate it. That gold medal game was a classic, just like the one in Beijing. Let us all have another four-year fix in Rio, and beyond.

Don’t be the ugly American who ruined Olympic basketball. It won’t help your legacy, it won’t help the IOC, it won’t help FIBA, it won’t help the globalization of basketball, and it will infuriate Planet Earth.

Leave well enough alone, and let’s savor the memory of what we just witnessed rather than worry that we’ve witnessed it for the final time.


Best regards,



Chris Sheridan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter.


  1. Marcus says

    A properly run World Cup of Basketball would be a far better tournament than the Olympics. Basketball at the Olympics loses some of its lustre because of all the competing events. Instead of the 12 team competition at the Olympics, the World Cup could be a 20 team competition.

    Group play: 4 pools of 5 teams, top two in each pool advance to the knock out phase.
    Knock out phase: 8 team single elimination tournament.

    Are you telling me that the 8 team single tournament event for example played at Madison Square Garden and the Barclay Center over a 9 day period would not be a popular event?

  2. drek says

    “(Juan Carlos Navarro) who found the whole NBA scene so tasteless and devoid of true passion that he left after one year in Memphis to return to Spain”


    maybe that’s because he was playing in Memphis when the team wasn’t good?

    Ok, there are teams whose fanbase is not exactly as passionate in Europe, but labeling the entire NBA that was is disingenerous toward fanbases such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Portland, Utah, Oklahoma City, San Antonio etc. who are just as passionate as their european counterparts (minus the hooliganism, firecracks, violence, racist chants). Find me places in Europe that can bring 20,000 fans x 41 games and you won’t find ANY..heck, even the Grizzlies still brought it more than 10,000 fans per game when they were awful. Not even the top teams in Europe, on average, bring is as many fans. On a single game it can happen, but not on average over the course of an entire season.

    So there are passionate fan bases and not as passionate fan bases in the can’t label it “passionless” based on how Memphis was when it was winning 20 games or something per season. If you put it that way, then come over here in Europe, watch a domestic league team in the bottom of the standings and you won’t find much passion there either.

    Besides, for every Navarro there are plenty of international players who enjoy playing in the NBA. As an Italian I lost count of how many times Bargnani or Belinelli said how much better the NBA is compared to international ball and that, other than playing for the national team, they’re not interested in coming back. But obviously you only bring up Navarro because it fits your narrative better.

    As far as Ibaka being robbed in favor of Chandler only because Chandler played in New York..READ THAT AGAIN..READ THAT AGAIN. Is that serious journalism? You sound like those conspiracy nuts on forums, not a serious journalist. How many awards besides this did the Knicks win in the past decade despite playing in the #1 market in the nation? small market teams won FAR more awards than the Knicks. So the whole big/small market thing has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Besides, it’s not like he didn’t deserve the award. Both of them deserved it but there’s only one who can win. If Ibaka won, many other people would’ve said it was Chandler who got robbed. Can’t make everyone happy. That’s common sense.

    This is not journalism on your part, sorry.

  3. David says

    I enjoy Olympic Basketball, but you said it yourself, only two teams are really competitive so how can FIBA be better than the NBA? The level of competition is just too weak to be truly enjoyable. We watch the NBA because we don’t know the outcome of the finals. With Olympic B-ball we always know the outcome. How is that better TV?
    As far as the commercials go, you got that right

  4. Zachary says

    I have been an NBA, basketball fan since moses wore short pants. What david Stern has done to the nba in the last 20 years has been an unmitigated disaster. He has comprimised the integrity of the game in order to generate every cent possible. He has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster and continues to implement/force ideas of his own on the entire league and an increasingly decaying fan base. I know the numbers say the league is doing great. Ask any NBA/Basketball purist, the league is crashing down around us. it is becoming the WWE. Now he wants to ruin the Olympics? the one place where we get genuine basketball? Unfortunately, most of us are left powerless to do anything but shake our heads in disbelief.

    • drek says

      The NBA is the top basketball league in the world by miles..complain all you want but it’s not crashing said it yourself, the numbers are great for the league so it can’t be crashing down. If you don’t like it speak for yourself and the other whiners like you..plenty of people all over the world LOVE IT and spend entire nights up to watch the games such as myself.

      God, I’m so sick and tired of those “the-sky-is-falling” fans who overblow things way out of proportion.

      • drek says

        Besides, nice job talking about purists..the are not even fine with FIBA/Euroleague/domestic leagues..the only level of basketball they’re fine with is women’s hoops because, in their own words, is “purer” and they almost never dunk….the only way they would be happy with the NBA (and euro leagues too) is if they abolished the dunk, spectacular plays etc. So it’s an impossible task to make them happy, unless you want to transform men’s basketball into women’s basketball. In that case the game would lose millions and millions of fans in a heartbeat.

  5. Mopi says

    I stopped reading at the part where u say Michael Phelps could walk through NYC more unnoticed than James Harden.

  6. Stu says

    I am tired of foregone conclusions. It’s been proven – the US will win every time if the best players go, especially when they are organized and selected carefully. Some of the best players were hurt and they still won. A second US team would probably have won silver. And seeing LBJ and Carmelo in a fourth Olympics? Enough. They have gone 50-0 in their last 50 games. I would rather see real competition with the young hungry players who know they only have one opportunity to play in the Olympics, so they better make it count.

  7. Jonahan S. says

    Great letter, but I both agree and disagree with your points.
    Agreed about FIBA being superior:
    If Stern could pull off a World Cup of Basketball and get the rest of the world to buy into it, it could be genius. Imagine a two-year qualifying buildup with each region represented. If there is a transparent profit sharing scheme with the players, everybody will buy in, and even the Tunisias and Nigerias of the world will benefit from the current popularity and domination of the US team. Stern says it could generate billions of dollars. He may not be crazy. Sure, the USA and Spain would dominate for a while, but things change. Interest gets generated and the sport develops worldwide. Besides, the soccer World Cup is always won by a European team or Brazil, yet the rest of the world still goes nuts over the tournament even though history says they have no chance.

    So you’ve got the World Cup of Basketball, where the top players of any age do their thing. How do you keep both that tournament and the Olympics relevant? By changing the Olympics to U23, which gives anybody a fighting chance of winning (see Mexico 2012). Think Mexico won’t ride that illusion right into Brazil 2014? So with both tournaments complimenting each other, you’ve got a path for international growth and revenue to eventually take basketball’s global popularity to soccer levels. I say, let’s give it a try.

      • Jonahan S. says

        FIFA made about $2B profit on the South Africa World Cup on revenue of $3.2B. Nobody expects a FIBA world cup to generate that much, but even if it’s 10%, that’s still $320M revenue, and enough to get the attention of the top players to put in a few weeks’ worth of effort for a taste of that. In 40 years, FIBA could think about approaching those kinds of numbers, if it’s done properly. You may call it bull, but there’s some obvious low-hanging fruit out there, but only if FIBA does it right. And that means, sharing the profits with the players.

  8. A.J. says

    Sheridan doesn’t seem to realize he was watching a rerun on the NBC Sports Network. The live game was shown much earlier on NBC, with lots of commericals.

      • Thomas says

        The game was shown live on both channels as I watched it on the NBC Sports Network. I remember some commercials, but not an over abundance of them.

        To me NBA > FIBA.

    • Christopher says

      You are wrong there AJ. I watched the game on NBC Sports Network at 10AM (EST) not NBC 4 and it was shown COMMERCIAL FREE. When NBC 4 would break to a commercial the game would be shown without the announcers.

    • says

      Um, no A.J. The game was shown simultaneously on NBC and NBC Sports Channel. There were no commercials on NBCSC, but the announcers went silent during what were commercial breaks on NBC. The live feed continued uninterrupted on the channel formerly known as Versus.

      • drek says

        “the announcers went silent during what were commercial breaks on NBC. The live feed continued uninterrupted on the channel formerly known as Versus.”

        Well thats pretty much how LIVE NBA games are aired in Europe..during the U.S. commercial break, the international feed goes on with the U.S. announcers either silent or talking among them about random stuff that has nothing to do with the game .

        btw, NBA>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> FIBA and it’s not even close. Come on now, the best of the best is in the NBA..heck, in FIBA ball you have worse refs (Olympics exhibit A) and much more flopping than in the NBA. And this comes from a foreigner, not from an American.

      • A.J. says

        If you’re right, then I stand corrected. However, the listings expressly stated the live gold medal team handball game as being broadcast at the same time as NBC aired the gold medal basketball game live. The NBC Basketball Channel also aired the gold medal game live.

  9. Clippersfan4471 says

    A fantastic piece. As mentioned here and about a million other places, it’s the owners who are scared of losing their employees. Fair enough. But don’t force that fear onto the whole world of basketball. As an Aussie, we love the thought of taking on the best from the USA and Europe every 2 years (inc. World Champs). We honestly don’t have the talent level at the U/23 level, the same as many of the 2nd tier countries. If the USA wish to make their team an U/23 group, then you make that decision and leave the rest of us out of it. I know that the Olympics are an incredibly special event for our basketballers and not one they should be forced to miss because of the selfishness of the NBA and its owners.

  10. maxey says

    Tres desole, CS, on this one I’m w/Cubes and the Commish. The Oly’s monetize their hoops to the advantage of – – the IOC. And I, for one, feel nothing positive about those elitist arses who run that quadrennial commercialism/politicism global event.

    I watch only the hoops (and what my wife might force upon me).

    PS of course there is the question of who verifies ages of under-23s in some of our participating countries…


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