David Stern continues to amaze

Alex Trautwig

The NBA Commissioner has levied a whopping $250,000 fine on the Spurs for resting their best players against the Miami Heat last night.

Only 14 more months of the awesome, awesome spectacle that is the singular power of David Stern. Treasure it people. His like will not be seen again any time soon.

As you all know, I have major issues with Gregg Popovich's shenanigans when he has decided over the years to rest his best players simultaneously, essentially throwing a game because it is in the long term interests of the Spurs to do so. My reservations have at times proven difficult to express -- it's clearly not in the spirit of competition to do what Popovich has done, but that spirit is ineffable at best.

I now feel like maybe I've come up with the kernel of why I feel it is not right to rest players in this manner. Those supporters of Popovich's actions who say he is within his rights to do whatever he wants with his team should bear in mind one thing -- this doesn't affect just his team. It affects 29 other teams. And while that may be an exaggeration, it is not an exaggeration to say that when he rests his best players against any team that has a chance to make the playoffs, it affects all of the other teams in that conference and it could conceivably have a very direct affect on one or more competitors. A league-based competition implies an agreement among the competitors that they'll do their best against all the other teams in the league. By deciding which games to tank and which to play to win, Popovich is manipulating the league. Very, very slightly too be sure, but too much in my opinion.

(The league's inconsistency in dealing with this issue is clearly another problem here. The simple fact is that resting his stars against Utah last April, with a dozen games remaining and the Jazz locked in a battle for a playoff berth with several other teams was much worse than resting them against Miami from a competitive standpoint. Stern is late to the party and sending the wrong message by cracking down now, but that's a different question.)

Long time readers of the blog may recall some rants I've gone on regarding the Commissioner in the past. My personal favorite from the greatest hits list came in the 2007 playoffs when the league suspended Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs. Stern's handling of that situation, and in particular his smug self-assurance, was maddening to me.

In handing down a $250,000 fine on the Spurs in the wake of the Heat game, Stern is once again making illogical statements to justify his actions.

Here's the money quote. When explaining some prior discussions held among the owners regarding the strategic resting of players, Stern said that "a number of teams thought it should be at the sole discretion of the team, the coach, the general manager, and I think it's fair to say I agree with that, unless that discretion is abused." You know, for a lawyer, David Stern sure has a casual relationship with the meaning of words. What part of "sole discretion" does he not understand? If discretion were never abused, it would not have to be qualified with the word "sole", know what I mean?

The whole thing is pretty confusing actually. The official statement says:

The Spurs' actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA.

But last I checked, February 2012 and April 2012, when the Spurs did THE EXACT SAME THING against were both after April 2010. The only possible explanation is that "the best interests of the NBA" are only pertinent during national TV games -- which is quite a balancing act for the league.

Furthermore, Stern's statement that after that March 2010 meeting there was "no conclusion reached" seems to completely contradict his justification for the fine. Is it league policy or is it not? If it is league policy, the it would seem that there was indeed a conclusion reached? Did he mean there was no consensus reached? If so, I again wonder about Stern's lack of precision in his language use, especially given that he's a lawyer. Or was he more like Lionel Hutz as a lawyer? "Your honor, I'm no law talking guy..."

But this is the glory that is David Stern, the Commissioner with new clothes. He says what he wants, does what he wants. It all makes sense in his head, and no one can do anything about it. If the Spurs wanted to dispute this fine, to whom would they appeal? Short of heading to civil court, what is their recourse? (By the way, I assume they would win a court case -- the fact that Stern has ignored identical behavior in the past would hold much sway with a judge.)

And you know what the beauty part is? Now we'll get to hear Stern's torturous justifications for why the situation is different the next time this happens and he DOESN'T hand down a fine. He's truly amazing. I miss him already.

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