The Mercy Rule

David Stern Blocks Trades Like a Boss

By David Roth

Periodically, someone pops off with an NBA-related slavery metaphor, and everyone gets really pissy about it. There's a good reason for that huffiness, too—comparing well-compensated professional athletes to people living in bondage is deeply dumb, and it sounds doubly so when posh-ass Bryant Gumbel, the most recent offender, does it in his permanent Dave-Chappelle-imitating-a-white-guy voice. LeBron's vast, Louis Vuitton-strewn South Florida mausoleum-manse is a bummer even to think about, but it's not a squalid slave-quarters. And Dwight Howard-enthusiast Dwight Howard is not chattel merely because the Orlando Magic haven't traded him as expeditiously as he wanted. And anyway, the slavery comparison ignores a much more effective workplace metaphor, and one that more or less everyone with a job can relate to with ease. NBA players, like you and me and everyone else, work for supremely shitty bosses.

In some cases, these are their immediate bosses—some seething, cop-faced head coach or an oafish, backslapping front office type. In most cases, though, in the NBA as in the average drop-ceilinged office hellscape, the terrible boss in question inhabits a spot further up the organizational chart. He (and it is always a “he”) could be an old-school, possibly-nude-under-that-bathrobe Los Angeles real estate lech like Mercy Rule favorite and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He can be a self-righteous mortgage-business creep like Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, or a ham-faced petro-doofus like Thunder chief Clay Bennett, or a Naugahyde desert-creature mediocrity like Suns deed-holder Robert Sarver.

But it will certainly be someone very rich, and generally someone who regards the team he owns as a profit-generating device with some ancillary basketball- and community-related interests. He golfs poorly and frequently, can be cunty about his neighbor's helipad in private, and will tell you what he thinks about charter schools or the estate tax even if you explicitly ask him not to. You know this guy, although it's doubtful you know him in your actual life—he is enjoying a cognac on a sofa upholstered in endangered monkey fur, in the executive suite at the uppermost reaches of the Occcupy movement's dreaded One Percent. He is sure he deserves nothing less.

Whether or not this person is good at his job or not isn't really all that important—there's impunity at this level of affluence, especially for those capital-o Owners who operate without the moderating effects of shame or responsibility. That's a good thing for people like Gilbert, who joined other owners in enjoining commissioner David Stern to block a three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul—the star point guard on the New Orleans Hornets, a team currently in league receivership—to the Los Angeles Lakers. (Gilbert, naturally, did his enjoining in a petulant email to the commissioner ending in the words "Please Advise," the most singularly bad-boss phrase in English) Stern did that, then later blocked another trade that would've sent Paul into the clammy, bronzed, creepily prolonged embrace of Sterling and the Clippers. Both trades, from a strictly basketball perspective, were actually pretty good, and would've served to retool the Hornets roster.

But where other general managers and players have the misfortune to work for a single puffed-up, half-competent moneybag, Hornets GM Dell Demps and Paul are unlucky enough to work for 29. Commissioner Stern works for them, too. He proved this by seizing control with a certainty that only ignorant centi-millionaires can know, cutting Demps out of the process, and delegating any prospective deal-making to a deputy commissioner whose front office career is best remembered for the $65 million he paid to a 300-pound Caucasian named Bryant "Big Country" Reeves who looked and played like someone from a Far Side cartoon.

That these well-compensated boss types have done every single thing wrong for weeks—both in terms of botching two decent deals and in terms of obliterating their credibility—is maddening, but it isn't necessarily surprising. We all live with managerial incompetence every day, and these tycoon-brats and mortgage creeps and feckless yacht-bound financiers are, in a macro-sense, all of our bosses, too. We may not know how it feels to use iPads as coasters, or whatever it is that LeBron and other players do with their boss’s dough, but when it comes to serving the cruel, stupid whims of fancified goofs too ignorant even to know how little they know, we can all relate at least a little bit.

@david_j_roth

Previously-Donald Sterling, Human Cold Sore


 

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