An All-Star game under a dark cloud

A record crowd, a great game, a Shakira showstopper -- and a looming work stoppage


Ethan Sherwood Strauss
February 15, 2010 7:16PM (UTC)

As a former NBA employee (low level PR, treated well, no grudges), it’s difficult for me to say this: In the wake of All-Star weekend, the national sports media had better be more critical of the league. Yes, I know it’s relatively trivial fare, but I want some honesty mixed into my top-ten lists and breakdowns of who’s under- or overrated.

Sports are a microcosm of life, or at least I keep telling myself this to excuse the wasted hours I devote to them. The analog of the much-hyped NBA All-Star game would be a political convention for a doomed campaign. As the massive egos of NBA Commissioner David Stern, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban coalesced to bring us the biggest basketball game ever, an opaque shadow blanketed the festivities. The economy has tanked, basketball owners weren’t prepared for it, and now they want their employees to take the hit (I know wealthy jocks aren’t union joes, but doesn’t this phenomenon sound damned familiar?).

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The tension was enough to make Charles Barkley break up awkward economic conversations, deeming them "inappropriate" displays of "millionaires arguing with billionaires." When Barkley thinks a conversation uncouth, we must be hurtling toward apocalypse. If a work stoppage isn’t looming, this is a pretty good act. I’m a child of divorce who’s consumed unhealthy amounts of NBA media -- let’s just say I know the signs.

This year’s All-Star game set a record for most folks at a basketball game, drawing 108,713 to Jerry Jones' Cowboys Stadium. A resplendent affair that Mark Cuban bragged would make the Super Bowl look like a "bar mitzvah," the stadium shots delivered a jarring visual that evoked something deeper than mere novelty. Mazel tov, Mark, mazel tov, it looked like something out of "Devil in the White City." The actual game was fast-paced fun ( (the East beat the West, 141 to 139) and I especially enjoyed Shakira's NSFSB (Not Safe for Super Bowl) performance. The contest's fluid atmosphere was a reminder of why I find the basketball artistry life affirming -- or at least entertaining

But the pall was impossible to ignore, especially when TNT mysteriously cut to commercial as Mark Cuban uncomfortably fielded questions about the league’s economic future (When asked if he was optimistic about labor negotiations, Cuban bluntly said "no"). Oddly timed decisions turned this into the world's biggest pity party. Over a week before, David Stern publicly offered a new collective bargaining agreement that was jokingly called a "middle finger" to the players union. In another effort to squeeze the players into large salary reductions, Stern warned that the NBA had a projected loss of $400 million next year.

Can you host a decadent parade, gush about the league’s health, while simultaneously shaking the "End is NEAR" sign?

And again, where's the sports media? David Stern is smart, charismatic, and seems to genuinely care about the NBA. His greatness shouldn’t be an article of faith, though (especially when Stern uses his own $400 million failure as an ultimatum validation). Sportswriters have often been criticized as timid, authority-worshippers who save shots for low-hanging fruit. As they piously lecture athletes for moral or professional failings I wonder: Why are NBA Finals ratings half of what they were under the reign of Jordan? Who’s at fault for these until-now secret money losses? I accept this laziness from my political media, but from my sports Web sites, it's just unacceptable.

 

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Ethan Sherwood Strauss

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