In February, David Stern will – pardon the term – celebrate his 28th anniversary as NBA commissioner. It seems doubtful that he will be honored in a halftime ceremony anywhere, although the optimists among us are hoping there will in fact be multiple NBA halftimes.
If that is to happen, Stern will have to venture into territory that he hasn’t visited since – well, who knows? For the sake of discussion, let’s settle on the early ’80s at a time when he was the No. 2 man in the league and was on the way to becoming commissioner.
It was a kinder, gentler David Stern who charmed CBS executives at the time and convinced them to stop showing weekday NBA Finals games on tape delay after the local news. It was, to be precise, a humble David Stern who managed to get his championship games on live TV and lift his sport to a level of legitimacy that a major sport deserved.
That David Stern left the building long ago. That David Stern was not present at any time during the last two and a half years of collective bargaining negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association.
That David Stern was certainly nowhere to be found last Thursday when the current commissioner announced negotiations were over and if the players did not accept the owner’s last offer, the next one would be much worse. The current commissioner even mocked the players by telling NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, “It’s never a take it-or-leave it offer at 47 percent with a flex cap. It could still be 46.5 [percent].”
If words were actions and Stern displayed that sort of behavior on the floor, he would get a technical foul for taunting. Off the court, it was much worse.
So now, David Stern must find his inner commissioner and somehow recapture a quality that has become foreign.
To save the NBA season and his league, Stern must find humility.
And that may be the biggest challenge of his career, because Stern’s relationship with the NBA is unique to him. He has been commissioner since 1984, but he first began working with the NBA in 1966 as an outside counsel for the law firm employed by the NBA.