Blogs & Comment

Voices: NBA lockout a mishandled mess

From bloggers to Malcolm Gladwell, everyone is taking shots at how NBA commissioner David Stern is representing the league’s finances.


At the centre of the NBA lockout is David Stern, the league’s commissioner since 1984, who for years has been feted as the best commissioner in pro sports. Under his stewardship, the NBA has expanded its reach to Chinese and European markets, drummed up fan support with social media and improved its brand perception through charitable work and aggressive advertising.

But during the NBA lockout, Stern has suffered a public relations shaming—at least among the league’s most scrutinizing writers and hardcore fans. Stern’s position in the lockout is that as many as 22 of 30 teams are losing money, with the league posting losses of roughly US$300 million for its past season. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, which expired June 30 and led to the lockout, the players took a 57% cut of league revenues. League owners would like to drive that number closer to 50%.

Some writers—in addition to the player’s union—take issue with Stern’s financial estimates and management practices. The league, they argue, is more profitable than he leads on. And with the upcoming basketball season increasingly in danger of losing games—or at worst an entire season—Stern’s character and bargaining position have come under attack.

Below is a selection of quotes about how Stern has handled the lockout:

Howard Bryant, Senior writer for

“The NBA commissioner has adopted a tactic perfectly suited for today’s age of shrinking media, anger toward labor and multimillion-dollar athletes: Use the authority to repeat his position until misinformation becomes truth.”

Malcolm Gladwell

“When David Stern says that the ‘previous ownership’ of the (New Jersey) Nets lost ‘several million dollars’ on the sale of the team, he is apparently not counting the profits on the arena, the eminent domain victory, the long-term value of that extra 14 acres, or the appreciation of (Bruce) Ratner’s adjoining properties. That is not a lie, exactly. It is an artful misrepresentation. It is like looking at a perfectly respectable kasha knish and pretending it is a ham sandwich.”

…More Gladwell

“At the very moment the commissioner of the NBA is holding up the New Jersey Nets as a case study of basketball’s impoverishment, the former owner of the team is crowing about 10 percent returns and the new owner is boasting of ‘explosive’ profits. After the end of last season, one imagines that David Stern gathered together the league’s membership for a crash course on lockout etiquette: stash the yacht in St. Bart’s until things blow over, dress off the rack, insist on the ’93 and ’94 Château Lafite Rothschilds, not the earlier, flashier, vintages.”

Mike Ozanion, Forbes magazine

“Problem: Stern has no credibility when it comes to the NBA’s economics. Stern’s biggest problem is that the Golden State Warriors recently sold for a record $450 million and Michael Ilitch is about to pay about $400 million for the Detroit Pistons. In other words, both teams are being priced at enterprise values well above the $300 million paid for the league’s last expansion team, the Charlotte Bobcats.”

Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA Columnist for Yahoo! Sports

“Stern has brought the sport into an unnecessarily dark and ominous place. He has let too many incompetent owners buy into the NBA, and helped them thrust too many incompetent management teams into marching themselves back to the top of the (NBA draft) lottery year after year.”

…More Wojnarowski

“Everyone is so scared of Stern. They want to work in the league again, and know he has the power to crush them. This is part of the reason so many are watching Players Association president Derek Fisher closely now. Will he ever come out swinging at Stern? After all, from owners to team executives to agents, everyone knows the dirty little secret of that job. Play ball with Stern in labor talks, and history shows the league will take care of you.”

Dave Zirin, SLAM Magazine and

“Stern speaks often about ‘guaranteeing profitability’ for every franchise but is taking the easy route—going after players’ salaries—instead of actually waging an argument with (franchise owners) James Dolan, Jerry Buss and Jerry Reinsdorf that for the future of the League, they need to start divvying up their cash.”