Sports Sermon: NBA season fading into distance

September 15, 2011

NBA commissioner David Stern has officially completed his transformation from global visionary to dictator. Almost a month after harmlessly discussing revenue sharing and mentioning the name of the Milwaukee Bucks Australian center Andrew Bogut in an interview with Australian daily The Herald Sun, the NBA fined Michael Jordan the ludicrous sum of $100,000.

I won’t shed any tears for MJ’s wallet – he’ll splash that much cash on the big blind in Vegas. Nor has Jordan proven himself to be a particularly amiable guy in his retirement, making his allies these days few and far between. Nevertheless, this is a matter of principle. Michael, I’m here to defend you.

Not only is this fine outrageous in its amount, but more importantly, it was levied under completely tyrannical reasoning. The NBA currently has a policy that allows it to fine owners up to $1 million for publicly mentioning the lockout or any current NBA players. Jordan’s role as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats means he is subjected to these strict regulations.

Perhaps Jordan, immortal celebrity that he is, had a big target on his back all along. Someone of lesser stature (read: basically anyone else in the world) would probably not have been hit so hard by Stern’s financial hammer. This punishment was meant to send a message to the basketball community, but what kind of message?

In Stern’s mind, fans, the people who truly make this league what it is, have no right to know about the issues at stake. We have no right to hear about the league thinks or what different owners have to say. Not even Michael fucking Jordan has the authority to speak his mind.

To make matters worse, just a day after the NBA launched this missile at its greatest legend, the owners and players union left another New York meeting without having made any progress towards ending the lockout – again. So in case the fine didn’t properly send the message, let me be more clear: we aren’t going to hear from the league anytime soon.

So where we do we go from here? The aftermath of the NFL lockout offers some optimism for a solution, as that league overcame major obstacles at the negotiating table to start the season on time and with tremendous excitement.

Unfortunately, the NBA’s problem is fundamentally different. While the NFL was arguing over how to distribute its astronomical profits, the NBA is losing money, fast.

This gives us all the more reason to question Stern’s actions and motives. As majority owner of a small-market team, Jordan is perfectly within reason to talk about the necessity of revenue sharing for the subsistence of his franchise.

Furthermore, this sort of public commentary on the issue should be encouraged, not condemned. Instead of posting some half-wit response in 140 characters or less on Twitter, Jordan spoke his mind to a respected news source, in a country where the NBA has been growing in popularity as their national sporting heroes break into the league. The Australians must be perplexed by the quintessentially American boardroom squabbling that threatens to destroy our basketball league.

While I understand that there are important legal issues that must remain under wraps, preventing qualified individuals from articulating the issues of the lockout to the public completely disrespects us as fans of the game. Jordan did not reveal any details of negotiations, nor did he fire any pointed attacks at specific individuals. He simply explained his position to a curious audience, trying to convey the complex dynamics of the lockout to an entire nation of basketball fans.

This week has been perhaps the most debilitating in terms of salvaging the NBA season. While the return of football may offer some consolation for the time being, it looks almost guaranteed that the league’s November 1 tip-off will only be happening on the Xbox. Our best hope for now is that Stern will take MJ’s money and put it towards buying a EuroLeague TV contract, because otherwise, it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing any professional basketball in the near future.

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