Friday, May 18, 2007

Piling onto the Suns/Spurs Debate

I don't have too much to add to jjwalker's entertaining invective against David Stern for suspending Amare Stoudemire and thereby rewarding the Spurs for cheap-shotting Steve Nash and inducing an ever-so-minor, but technically improper reaction by Amare. I agree that Stern is way too concerned about the appearance of "angry black men fighting" and that the hyperventilation over NBA fights as opposed to baseball or hockey fights is almost certainly motivated by conscious or unconscious racial bias.

The one point that I want to add is that I'm preconditioned to question whether the NBA's reactions are motivated by a desire to increase ratings. I watched too many fights involving the execrable Knicks in the 90s and each time, I always assumed that Stern would come down harder on the Knicks's opponents to make sure that the New York team advanced. In retrospect, I was probably wrong about the belief, but there was such a sense on my part at the time that the league and NBC were rooting for the Knicks. Maybe it was the net effect of watching one too many games officiated by Knick Bavetta.

In this instance, the NBA's decision is especially irrational because it doesn't even make economic sense for them. The Suns are one of the most popular teams in the NBA. Neutral casual fans like me won't go out of our way to watch the Spurs, who aren't aesthetically pleasing and are old hat, but we'll certainly watch the Suns, who push the ball up the court and involve one another on offense all the time. They're a throwback to the teams we grew up watching in the 80s. And if you don't believe me, look at where the Suns and Spurs rank in terms of road attendance. I'll watch the Finals if it's Suns-Pistons; I probably won't watch if it's Spurs-Pistons, who are the Chelsea-Liverpool pairing of the NBA.

In suspending Amare and swinging a finely-balanced series in favor of the Spurs, the NBA not only angered fans by overreacting to a minor incident, they took money out of their own pockets by increasing the likelihood that the Finals will have low TV ratings. In the end, the best way to view the decision by David Stern (or more precisely Stu Jackson, who gets skewered by The New Republic's Jason Zengerle as Isiah Thomas-lite) is that of a mindless ballpark usher who won't let you move to a different section, even when that section is completely empty and farther from the plate than the section for which you have a ticket. The decision is an example of mindless, bureaucratic application of rules without the slightest concern for interpretation, context, common sense, or even self-interest.


Fox said...

Honestly, I think Stern really, really likes the fact that this is a black-and-white rule and will continue to apply it that way. Did you hear his debate with Dan Patrick on the subject, in which I shot down all of Patrick's supposed exceptions as wishy-washy? (My guess is that Stern was one hell of a lawyer in his day--it was very, very funny.)

As to the Knicks, you may be right that they got some calls, and got away with a lot. But don't forget that the best Knicks team of the bunch--and the one most likely to have beaten the MJ-led Bulls or at least taken them to 7 games--never got the chance becaue Ewing and company were suspended for coming off the bench in a fight against the Heat.

Anonymous said...

wrong link to the walker article

Michael said...

I did not hear the Stern/Patrick interview, but I heard that Stern came off as a prick.

The '97 Knicks were not going to beat the Bulls. That Bulls team won 69 games and was going to have homecourt. The Knicks' best chance to beat the Bulls came in '93.

Link is fixed.

Fox said...

That Stern did. But he came across as a very sharp, logical prick. Simmons keeps touting him for president but he would make a much better dictator of a small Carribean country. Give it a listen--it was awfully good.

I dind't say the Knicks would've won, just that the league (and it's supposed pro-Knicks bias) would have gained a lot from having the Knicks, and not the Heat, play the Bulls.

By the way, the ultimate proof taht the league does not rig things to help the Knicks is the fact that it has let isiah keep his GM job and make trades.

Anonymous said...

True - but the NBA *did* institute a rule forbidding a team from trading away all its draft picks in consecutive years (or something close along those lines), after Isiah recently attempted to do so.

PB at BON said...

This sort of begs the question of whether the NBA's administrators were consciously trying to avoid adding to the notion that they make decisions based on ratings.

If so, this seems like a supremely stupid way to make that point. If, though, that wasn't factored into the equation, though this ruling more or less squishes that particular notion into the myth category, it makes the decision "merely" illogical and unfair.

Either way: bad, bad decision.

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