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Donaghy, Stern and My Delusional Rant

About a month and a half ago I read Brook Larmer's intensely researched Operation Yao Ming. I finished before the Tim Donaghy scandal, which has left the NBA at a crossroads. Yet I bring up Larmer's book because his coverage of David Stern's international vision stuck with me when I read it. In particular the following quote,

"Stern didn't take his cues from the tradition-bound worlds of American football and baseball. His model was Walt Disney's entertainment empire. 'We're not just a sports league, not just a game, we're an entertainment attraction,' he said. Disney has 'theme parks, and we have theme parks. Only we call them arenas. They have characters: Mickey Mouse, Goofy. Our characters are named Magic and Michael.'"

Granted I took that out of context. And I have to respect Stern's ability to use players' first names the same way most people use their last names. But that quote really bothered me. Substitute "Austin" and "Triple H" for "Magic" and "Michael" and I would be 100% convinced that Vince McMahon said it. The point is that even before Donaghy's shady dealings came to light I had serious concerns about the NBA. It is simply impossible to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the NBA's best fans truly believe the officiating is atrocious at best and fishy at worst. Furthermore, I watched a lot of bad basketball games last year that made me wonder aloud if the teams were trying to win. Stern can bully (Dan Patrick interview) or schmooze (Bill Simmons podcast) all he wants, but after a certain point perception is reality. And this is a concept Stern knows quite well (see dress code and constant advertisement of "NBA Cares" charity). Therefore the question has to be asked: What is the league's top priority? Given that teams can make money without qualifying for the playoffs and Stern's blatant infatuation with building "an entertainment attraction" that appeals to corporations, it is fair to say that competition may not be #1.

I'd be more than happy to see Allen Iverson roll up for a game in a throwback jersey, a skull cap and jeans, while Chris Andersen threw gang signs from the passenger seat, as long as the game was competitive and well played. I'm not saying players should commit felonies. I'm just saying I do not want the big stories of 2008 to be about dress code, what material the ball is made of, Ben Wallace's headband and the unimportant minutia of that nature. Please, please, please fix this game.