In a recent interview with Lee Hawkins of the Wall Street Journal, NBA Commissioner David Stern talked about how rookies coming into the league handle their sudden influx of fame and wealth. To that point, Stern referenced the ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Broke” by Billy Corben, calling it “mildly racist”, presumably because most of the subject’s covered in the documentary about bad financial decisions made by pro athletes are African-American.
So 80% of YOUR league is black, and of the Top 50 highest players in the league only a handful of them are white (of which Kevin Love is the only white American) and you are surprised that a documentary that features your league would have a heavy emphasis on black players?
As if insinuating racism isn’t enough, he attacks the veracity of the Sports Illustrated piece “Broke” was based on. The problem is that the producers of the film were not trying to prove or disprove the SI piece; they were using it as starting point to stimulate a discussion that hopefully changes the culture of spending by pro athletes. (ESPN’s statement on the matter confirms that.)
Despite the fact that many athletes have publicly lauded director Billy Corben’s work as something that should be shown to all athletes entering professional sports, Stern tries to undercut the film’s credibility. Much like WWE’s Vince McMahon tries to humble talent that was imported from other companies by saddling them with horrible gimmicks (think Dusty Rhodes in yellow polka dots), Stern doesn’t give credit to something because it isn’t coming from his office. They have a rookie symposium, and I strongly believe the movie should be on the schedule of events.
By bashing the film’s credibility, David Stern is indirectly telling his incoming athletes that they should not heed the films warning because it predominately focuses on black athletes. He doesn’t want a group of young, mostly black, athletes who are about to come into a lot of money to learn a valuable lesson because its focused on young, mostly black, athletes who came into a lot of money. It’s like Antoine Walker and Allen Iverson don’t exist in Stern’s world.
The other thing that is interesting about Stern’s insinuation is that one of the major focuses in the film, Bernie Kosar, isn’t even black. Heck, it’s pretty safe to assume that telling Kosar’s story was one of the primary reasons the film was even made. (Corben also directed 30 for 30’s “The U” which features a pretty heavy dose of Kosar and they are both University of Miami graduates).
The film’s message should be especially relevant to the NBA considering something Stern directly before the segment starts (you can see the full interview here).
“We draft 60 people a year, I don’t know what the number is, maybe 30 make a roster, maybe 45 but then they begin to drop off.”
So if you recognize that half the people you hire are almost immediately unemployed, wouldn’t it benefit them to know the pitfalls they will face as they struggle to hang on, especially given most of them do not have a full college education?
All that said, the one of the most intriguing facts is that if anything is mildly racist, it is an assumption Stern makes at the beginning of the segment.
Hawkins asks the following question as a follow up to Stern’s above statement:
What would you tell these young people, because they come into the league from one socioeconomic reality never having seen that much money and then all of a sudden, over night, they have it.
His response is that it’s a lot of money for ANY socioeconomic group, and it wouldn’t be fair to think of the image of “the poor black kid from the ghetto” because that isn’t the prototype.
The problem is that Hawkins’ question made no mention of race. It was about kids moving from one economic situation to another. It doesn’t even insinuate that a kid is coming from poverty. It simply asks about a kid who is 19 or 20 year old coming into a lot of money. Even if a prospect is the son of two surgeons, becoming a teenage millionaire is a change in their socioeconomic reality. Unless the prospect is a second generation superstar or Diddy’s son, there aren’t many players who come in at that high a socioeconomic level.
Bryant Gumbel accused Stern of being a “plantation overseer” during last year’s lockout and the league forced a dress code on his athletes in a veiled attempt to make them less hip hop (and indirectly sprouting the Russell Westbrook/Dwyane Wade fashion movement), so maybe he shouldn’t be questioning something’s supposed racism.
In his 30 year reign, Stern has taken the league to unprecedented heights and developed a truly global brand. His contributions are immeasurable and he will always be remembered as the man at the helm of the second most popular sport in the country during its best time. That said, maybe it is a good thing that Stern is handing over the reins to Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.
Stern’s league is flourishing, but it may have also outgrown him. When he took over it was all about the short shorts and fundamentally sound bounce passes. Now Verizon has an app that tracks player style trends and the pass first point guard is a rarity.
It will be interesting to see if the Silver era is something innovative and different, or just an extension of Stern’s time.