Hubbard: Stern’s response: Personal or Professional?

Although I believe there are a number of practices conducted by the NBA where it would be appropriate for David Stern to apologize, depriving Miami Heat fans of the thrill of seeing Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is not one of them.

You want to apologize for unacceptable behavior?

Let’s start with that Miami public address announcer – the one who greets every basket like Mel Gibson greets torture in Braveheart.

At least William Wallace had an excuse. He was in the process of being disemboweled. The Miami guy sounds more painful yet he is Stern-approved entertainment.

You want to apologize for doing a disservice to NBA fans?

This is a league where teams not only charge regular prices for preseason games – when many players with D-League talent, at best, masquerade as legitimate NBA players – but also force season ticket buyers to purchase tickets to those meaningless games. Being sanctimonious about Spurs coach Gregg Popovich choosing to rest players while it is official policy to rip off fans in preseason is inconsistent at best.

Considering Popovich has a history of resting players – and certainly did it regularly last season – many of us are left with the notion that there was something else going on when Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 for sending the big three and Danny Green home before the encounter with Miami.

Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News pointed out Stern’s hypocrisy and suggested Stern cared more about TV partners than teams. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! sports accused Stern of conducting a culture war against the Spurs.

Both writers made excellent points.

But I would submit that there is something much more fundamental in this dustup between Stern and Popovich and that is the two men have a genuine dislike for each other. That doesn’t mean Pop doesn’t respect Stern’s accomplishments as commissioner, nor does it mean that Stern doesn’t respect Popovich’s achievements as a head coach.

It isn’t professional; it’s personal.

And at least part of it goes back to the 2004 Olympics when Popovich was an assistant on Larry Brown’s staff. I’ve heard several versions of this story and all vary a little but the bottom line is that Stern and the NBA had certain promotional ideas that would have been time-consuming for the team. Popovich flat-out told Stern the No. 1 priority was basketball and the two exchanged words with Popovich refusing to back down. One person who knew about the situation said, “Pop stood up to him and Stern didn’t like it.”

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