I have lived through two decades of American sports, and let me tell you, I have seen some shit. I’ve seen referees rig games, players bet on their teams, contentious lockouts shorten seasons, Tiger Woods sleep with 349,762 women. Yes, we have seen some crazy, revolting things in the sports world.
On Dec. 8, 2011, I witnessed the single most abhorrent offense that I have ever seen. I still lack words to describe my lividness. I saw a downright dictatorial league commissioner veto a fair, agreed-upon trade.
Excuse me for a second while I step away from my laptop to vomit.
Alright, full disclosure here: My favorite NBA team is the Los Angeles Lakers and my favorite NBA player is Chris Paul. You can imagine my unrivaled excitement when I heard of the trade. I was ready to be first in line to buy that new No. 3 yellow jersey. But this is not why I am upset. It’s disappointing, yes, because I like the trade for the Lakers, but this is not at all what infuriates me.
We all know the story by now. Paul’s contract is on the verge of expiring, and he was not going to stay with his current team, the New Orleans Hornets, who are temporarily owned by the NBA because no buyers could be found. So for the Hornets, they either trade him and get something in return or lose him for nothing. Hornets GM Dell Demps worked tirelessly to put a deal together that allowed his team to rebuild and be competitive in the future. And he got quite a bounty of players in a deal that I think was fantastic for the Hornets. Furthermore, when the league took ownership of the Hornets, Demps was told that he had complete control of all basketball operations.
Once word of the trade leaked, NBA owners pressured NBA Commissioner David Stern to do something to stop it. So he did, and he “can” do that because technically, the league “owns” the Hornets.
I’ve been calling Stern a tyrant for years, but this was shocking even to me. He just stopped the trade. He stuck his self-righteous hand right in the middle of an agreed-upon deal between private self-interested entities. The league said it was “for basketball reasons,” which, as www.SI.com writer Chris Mannix said, “is like saying Herman Cain dropped out of the race because he decided he didn’t want to be president.”
There has been considerable uproar today in the sports universe, and rightfully so. Stern’s owners just didn’t want to see a team with Paul and Kobe Bryant teamed up in the backcourt, so they bitched and whined. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, the idiot partially indirectly responsible for this debacle (one word: LeBron), called the trade a “travesty” and pleaded with Stern to let the 29 NBA owners vote on it. Wait, what? Do you want to have a league-wide vote on all trades now? I don’t even need to go further into the sheer absurdity of that one.
How can you justify a league taking control of a situation that it has no business controlling? How can three teams all fully agree to a completely fair deal and then it gets rejected?
This is the new NBA, and the Paul free agency situation is an expected byproduct of it. Stars have been demanding trades to certain teams for decades; a notable early example involved the great Oscar Robertson, who in 1970 rejected a trade to one team so that he could play with the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron James set the modern precedent: when his contract was up in Cleveland, he had the ultimate say of where he would end up, and he chose to play with two other megastars, leaving Cleveland without any compensation.
This is all a necessary consequence of the modern state of the NBA. The LeBron debacle pushed the Nuggets to trade Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks so that he could be with another big star, and that was fine not just because the Knicks handed over a king’s ransom, but also because the burden of the decision is on the two teams, not on anyone else.
Yes, it is a stars’ league, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Paul made it very clear that he wasn’t staying in New Orleans. Now, he has to. If the trade to the Lakers was blocked, how can anyone else trade for him? Paul is obviously going to want to choose a big-market team, so along this precedent you theoretically have to veto any and all trades to big-market teams with superstars, if that is indeed your purpose, NBA owners. In doing so, you keep Paul unhappily in New Orleans all year, and he bolts after the season, leaving New Orleans a hopeless shell of a basketball team like LeBron left the bewildered Cavs.
And it’s all Stern’s fault.
So the owners don’t want to see Paul and Bryant in the backcourt together. So what? Stern wants to try to keep all the big stars from going only to big-market teams. So what? The owners don’t want to see the players having all the power when it comes to teams trading them. So the fuck what?
The owners need to accept the reality of the NBA that they preside over. It has developed into this monster over the years, and certain things just can’t be changed. Get over it. It’s not as if they helplessly watched their precious little league become polluted and backwards; they were complicit in a lot of the changes and were the architects behind some.
As for Stern, I hope this buries him. I hope that the three teams involved in the trade file lawsuits and win. I hope that public sentiment finally turns wholly against Stern and his management of the now-tainted NBA. I hope he’s shamefully forced into resignation to run off into early retirement with his tail between his tyrannical legs.
In a market designed for competitive capitalistic business, we essentially just witnessed a blatant act of socialism. Forget my inherent love for the Lakers, adoration of Paul and disgust for Stern. This was wrong. Just wrong. The NBA has deliberately sabotaged itself. The lockout was bad enough for the NBA’s image; now almost no one can respect this league. But as I said earlier with the star-driven nature of the league and what it has become, the owners have themselves to blame. I just wish that someone could veto THEM.