David Stern has been one of the most successful leaders of any American sports league. Stern (b. 1942) has been commissioner of the National Basketball Association since Ronald Reagan was president, and although the league has had an incredible run under his stewardship, for the last several years it has felt stale. The NBA used to have a cool factor, a jazz-like irreverence. B-ball was actually fun. But lately, I don't know, it's like the players are trying to have a good time but the stern father won't allow it. There was Stern's edict that players have to wear, at the minimum, business casual attire. (Yawn!) And the labor agreement seems weak, like it was negotiated by George Steinbrenner. For some ill-conceived reason he brought out a new ball this season and the players hated it so much that he had to revert back to the good ol' leather one. And there have been two major brawls, the Pacers-Pistons riot, and the Knicks-Nuggets melee Saturday night. These were obviously not his fault but when the suspensions and fines were handed-out (NBA Statement here
) it felt like a principal who had lost touch with the students.
The (lame) excuse for the dip in fan interest: the league doesn't have players like Bird, Magic and MJ anymore. Well, Elway, Montana, and Marino are long-retired but the NFL keeps getting bigger. And it is not like the NBA doesn't have some dynamic young talent--LeBron, Carmelo, and Dwyane Wade--and existing, but perhaps, fading stand-bys like Kobe, Shaq, and Iverson. While Stern has done a stellar job in the past, his, and the league's, recent record says otherwise.