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Archive for June 14th, 2012

Weird NBA Story: Commissioner Stern Insults Sportscaster Jim Rome During Interview

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Folks, I really don’t understand what the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, David Stern, thought he was doing on Wednesday afternoon, June 13, 2012, but here goes: Stern intentionally insulted sportscaster Jim Rome during Rome’s live call-in, nationally syndicated radio show after Rome asked a perfectly legitimate question regarding the upcoming NBA Draft.  This happened about twelve hours ago, and is all over the news.

Here’s what happened.  According to the Yahoo Sports blog “Ball Don’t Lie,” Rome asked the question everyone’s been asking since the New Orleans Hornets won this year’s NBA “draft lottery,” meaning the Hornets will get to pick first, consequently getting the best player available in the 2012 NBA Draft.  As the Hornets are currently owned by the NBA (and have been since December of 2010), this didn’t look very good.  Rome, being a well-known sportscaster, asked the question in what surely appears to be a rather non-confrontational way.

To wit (as transcribed by Yahoo Sports from the article referenced above):

“You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery, which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed,” Rome said. “I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy — was the fix in for the lottery?”

“Uh, you know, I have two answers for that,” Stern said. “I’ll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking.”

“You know, I understand why you would say that to me, and I wanted to preface it by saying it respectfully,” Rome replied. “I think it’s my job to ask, because I think people wonder.”

“No, it’s ridiculous,” Stern answered. “But that’s OK.”

“I know that you think it’s ridiculous, but I don’t think the question is ridiculous, because I know people think that,” Rome said. “I’m not saying that I do, but I think it’s my job to ask you that.”

“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Stern asked.

Now, this was a truly ridiculous answer, especially as Stern had already said above that the draft lottery wasn’t fixed.   It’s especially dumb because Stern is sixty-nine years of age, an accomplished and learned man, and really shouldn’t have said any such thing, especially because his asinine statement has for the moment eclipsed the NBA’s premiere event — the NBA Finals.

Rome handled this pretty well, as you’re about to see from the transcript:

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s fair,” Rome responded. “I don’t know that that’s fair.”

“Well, why’s that?” Stern asked.

My aside — oh, come off it, Commish!  You’re playing dumb here.  (Or were you having a “senior moment?”)  Whatever you’re doing, it’s wrong.  Cut it out.

Back to the transcript:

“Because I think that there are — and I know you read your emails and I’m sure you follow things virally on Twitter — people really do think it, whether it’s fair or not,” Rome said. “You don’t think the question’s fair to ask if your fans think it?”

Good question.  So, how does Stern answer it?  (Warning: this next exchange is rather lengthy.)

“People think it because people like you ask silly questions,” Stern said.  “I expect it to be written about — and actually, I commented last night in my presser that there was one guy who I won’t dignify by naming who says, ‘I have no reason to know anything, and I don’t know anything, but I tell you, I believe it’s fixed.’ OK, that’s good. Why is that? ‘Well, because this team won.’ And if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also, and if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also. And if every team was invited to have a representative there, and there were four members of the media there, and if Ernst and Young certified it, would you still think it? ‘Yes.’ So, I guess …”

“I think two things, which responds to this,” Rome interjected. “Number one, I don’t think so. I don’t think so — and I’m not covering myself — I don’t think so, and I think by asking the question, it would not suggest I think so. But the one thing I would say: The league does own the team, does it not?”

“… Yes,” Stern said, a question mark at the end of his sentence.

“Does that not make the question fair?” Rome asked.

“I don’t think so,” Stern said. “Number one, we sold it. We’re gonna close this week. We already have established our price. I think that if it had gone to Michael Jordan, which was the next team up with, in terms of a high percentage, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, David’s taking care of his friend Michael.’ And if it had gone to Brooklyn, which is going into Barclay Center, it would have been fair to speculate, I suppose, that we want to take Brooklyn off of the mat. So there was no winning. And people write about it, and it’s OK to write about it, and we sort of expect it, but that’s not a question that I’ve been asked before by a respectable journalist.”

This actually is a logic chain that makes sense.  But why did it take Stern so long to come up with it?  And why did he have to needlessly insult Rome before he got there?

———

Edited to add:

Upon further reflection, it seems that Stern wished to “frame the narrative” by giving a reason that explained why Stern had said something so insulting to Rome.  Notice the slur about “respectable journalists” who supposedly  wouldn’t ask such a question about “rigging the draft” — what was the point of that, especially as Rome had asked a perfectly legitimate question?  (And am I really supposed to think that other sportscasters and journalists hadn’t asked Stern this question before Rome got around to it?  Because I have a hard time buying that, too.)

That’s why, upon further reflection, I don’t think that Stern’s attempt at framing the narrative passes the “smell test,” even with the proviso that Stern’s logic chain regarding the other teams does make sense.

Back to the original blog.

———

From the transcript:

“I think I understand why you’re frustrated by that; I think that I understand why that would upset you,” Rome said. “I would hope that you would not hold that against me.”

“I wouldn’t hold it against you — you know, you and I have been into more contentious discussions than that,” Stern said.

“I don’t know, I’d put that one right up there,” Rome replied.

That’s the understatement of the year.  But Stern was not yet done; check out this next line:

“Well, you know, it’s good copy, and you do things sometimes for cheap thrills,” Stern said.

I don’t know what Stern thought he was doing here, but that just escalated an already tense situation.  And by this time, Rome was obviously getting exasperated:

“I did not do that for a cheap thrill,” Rome answered.

“Well, that’s what it sounds like,” Stern said.

“No, not at all,” Rome answered. “See, that’s where you and I — that’s our point of disconnect. That was not a cheap thrill and I was not throwing anything against the wall, and I was trying to be as respectful as possible. I’m just saying that people wonder about that. And here’s what I don’t want to do — I don’t want to say, ‘Hey commissioner, people would say …’ Because I’m going to ask a direct question. But people do wonder. But that was not a cheap thrill. I got no thrill out of that.”

“Well, it’s a cheap trick,” Stern said.

“No, flopping is a cheap trick,” Rome said.

Good one!  (I get tired of watching NBA players, especially the stars, doing this all the time.  It weakens the game and slows down the action.)  This was an excellent way for Rome to re-direct the conversation back to basketball rather than whatever it was Stern thought he was doing.  But once again, Stern didn’t take the high road:

“Well, no. But listen, you’ve been successful at making a career out of it, and I keep coming on, so …” Stern said.

“Making a career out of what, though, commissioner?” Rome interrupted. “See, I take great offense to that. Making a career of what? Cheap thrills?”

“What offense are you taking? You’re taking offense?” Stern asked.

I really do not buy Stern’s “I didn’t do anything” response here.   Neither did Rome.

“I am. Now I am,” Rome answered. “If you’re saying I’ve made a career out of cheap thrills …”

“… taking on the world, and now Jim Rome is pouting? I love it,” Stern said.

Um, excuse me?  Why do you wish to keep escalating an already bad situation, Mr. Commissioner?  (Especially when this was entirely your own fault.)

Here’s the rest of the transcript:

“I’m not pouting; I take offense,” Rome said. “There’s a difference between pouting and taking offense. I take offense like you took offense to the question. What if I said — were you pouting when I asked the question?”

“What offenses? Do you want to hang up on me?” Stern asked.

“No, I can’t hang up on you, because I’m running out of time — I would never hang up on you,” Rome said.

“OK,” Stern said. “Listen, I’ve got to go call somebody important, like Stephen A. Smith, right now. He’s up next.”

“All right, you go make that call, and I’ll go talk to somebody else, too, I guess,” Rome said.

“All right,” Stern said.

“All right, commissioner. Have a nice day,” Rome said. “I did not hang up on him — we are officially out of time. We will come back and reset that momentarily. Stay tuned.”

As writer Dan Devine of “Ball Don’t Lie” said, Stern should not have done this because Stern is a “grown-ass man.”  Devine also said, earlier in his critique:

Setting aside the moral/ethical/sensitivity argument you might make — “Hey, we probably don’t need to evoke domestic violence during a sports talk radio interview, especially when it’s not one about, y’know, domestic violence” — this wasn’t a loaded question. There most certainly was a way for Stern to answer Rome’s question — which, again, was “Was the fix in for the lottery?” — without in any way implicating the league in any impropriety.

Exactly right. 

This is undoubtedly the strangest sports story in the past ten years or more, because here, we have a commissioner in David Stern who’d rather cause trouble for a sportscaster than talk about his own product — the teams who are playing in the NBA Finals (the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, to be exact). 

Let me say it again, louder this time: David Stern would rather score cheap shots off Jim Rome than do his job, which is to promote NBA basketball.  Stern shouldn’t behave this way no matter what questions Rome or any other sportscaster asks (even though Rome’s questions were fair), because it’s part of Stern’s job to handle the tough questions.  (Otherwise, why accept the paycheck?)

And if I were an owner of any of the twenty-nine NBA franchises that aren’t owned by the NBA at this time, I’d be furious at Stern and be looking for a way to oust him over this.  Because it’s just not right when a commissioner of a professional sport makes the story all about him, rather than about the players, coaches, or even the owners.