Written by: Daniel Mulitauopele
Mere hours before the National Basketball Association opened the league to free agency, league commissioner David Stern dropped the hammer and crushed a three team trade that involved the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, and Houston Rockets.
With point guard Chris Paul acting as the main centerpiece in a deal that moved Lakers big men Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol out of town, many viewed the deal as another heist in the making. Under the guise of parity and league wide competitiveness, NBA owners implored Stern to take action, effectively halting the talks and stripping all agents, players and owners involved of their rightful powers within the league.
It is ironic that on the day that the new CBA agreement was approved and ratified, the tensions that existed between players and owners came to the forefront. The long awaited day of reconciliation has been marred by long held resentments between the league’s two sides, and the idea that NBA owners are at all satisfied with their seat of power is a farce. Many voices on the divide between the players and the owners have stated that the 149-day lockout had very little to do with financial disparity, considering that aspect of the CBA (in other words, the BRI split) was resolved fairly quickly. These recent events have only lent themselves to verify those opinions.
According to Commissioner Stern, the trade was halted for “basketball reasons” at first, and later revealed that he “wasn’t going to let Chris Paul dictate where he wanted to go.” While the issue of player mobility may have been a topic that was open for discussion during the negotiating phases of the lockout, the newly ratified CBA, as far as anyone can tell, did not provide provisions for league intervention in team trades.
Such a move has not been witnessed before in league history, and David Stern’s actions, whether spurred on by league owners or not, have violated a boundary that oversteps his role as NBA commissioner.
The issue lies in entitlement, and the “plantation owner” comments issued by union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel from more than a month ago will undoubtedly resurface. Kessler stated that “instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.” After Thursday’s events, it unquestionably feels that way, whether race is an indirect factor or not.
The NBA has long battled accusations of covert racism, spanning from Donald Sterling’s treatment of his own players to Dan Gilbert’s vicious disavowal of superstar LeBron James. The lockout did no favors to the league’s reputation, and this debacle can only further aggravate player sentiments. Players are the product, and because owners provide the infrastructure to utilize their skills, they deserve a fair cut of the revenue that comes along. This is the nature of business. Still, it seems that while the owners are very aware of the players’ potential as product, many have lost the ability to view their players as people.
Stern’s course of action has no precedent in league history, and as such, may be remembered as white league owners presuming their status and exerting dominance over the league’s predominantly black constituency.
After Stern’s decision Chris Paul stated that he would not attend the Hornets’ first day of practice, although he ultimately did, and all reports indicate that he is furious with the blatant disregard for league structure. Reports on Lamar Odom state that he is enraged as well, and there is no telling of how the players will respond to this gross error by the league.
What was aggravated by a lockout of the players may be concluded by a strike against the owners, and there can be no peace between slaves and masters.