The downfall of David Stern

I’ve been fan of David Stern as long as I’ve followed the NBA (20 years). Lately I’ve noticed the normally calm, composed, and articulate Stern becomes agitated and sarcastic during interviews. Stern, who’s background includes representing the NBA as outside counsel  for high profile law firm Proskauer Rose prior to becoming Commissioner, was on the Jim Rome Show yesterday when Rome asked him whether the NBA Draft Lottery is fixed. The normally straightforward and direct (and sometimes obnoxious) Rome not only expressed that he did not think  the lottery was fixed, but went out of his way to heavily preface the question to ensure Stern was not offended by it. Stern responded with a “shame on you” and accused Rome of making a career on “cheap thrills” and asking loaded question. After a brief back and forth Stern asked Rome “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Stern ended the interview by the seemingly childish method of provoking Rome saying, “Listen I gotta go call somebody important, like Stephen A. Smith, he’s up next.” Sure it can be argued that there was a better way for Rome to phrase the question; his excuse was he has to ask the questions the fans want. However, Stern’s reaction was childish and uncalled for.

After my initial reaction, “Did Rome really beat his wife?”, I did some research and thanks to Michael McCann (@McCann Sports Law) of I found out that Stern responded with a classic example of a loaded question. This example was used by Judge Stephen Williams recently in an US Court of Appeals Case in Washington D.C. McCann tweeted the citation for the case in which this was used: United States v. Danso, 664 F.3d 936, 939 (DC Cir. 2011).

“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Answer “Yes” and it means you used to beat your wife; answer “No” and you still beat your wife. The case described above was tried in court and as smart as David Stern is, he needs to realize that speaking to the media and ultimately to the public, many of whom are fans of his league, requires a different level of diplomacy.

Personally I have been a fan of Stern’s for years. I believe over the past twenty years he has been one of the best commissioners of the four major sports (hockey will be back) in this country. He has gracefully led the NBA into the new millennium by expanding its reach globally. He made the controversial decision to force players to look presentable when addressing the media (god forbid!). He has encouraged rule changes to make the game more enjoyable to the casual fan, increasing the popularity of the NBA, all the while steering clear of major controversies that have plagued other sports (i.e. steroids in baseball, concussions in the NFL). However, whether it is due to him nearing the end of his tenure as Commissioner or the mounting pressure of new challenges faced by the sport, I have lost some respect for him. So here is some advice Commissioner Stern: Next time you are asked a question like that, ignore it! A simple “No” would have been a much more PR-friendly answer, yet abrupt enough that your point would have been made without giving credibility to the question.

What do you think of Stern’s comments to Jim Rome? Do you think Stern’s time is up as Commissioner of the NBA?


About Rajiv Radia

Rajiv is a third year law student at American University - Washington College of Law in Washington DC and a long time sports fanatic.
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