Thursday, May 27, 2010

David Stern's John Hancock

Why is the signature of NBA Commissioner "David J. Stern" emblazoned on every NBA game ball? This is like if the property manager of your mostly-rental apartment building decided to hang his portrait in every elevator.

Sure, Stern, like your building manager and the US President, has been hired to enforce rules and keep the house in good working order. But Stern is best thought of as a career bureaucrat, not a politician. He was not democratically elected by most of the stakeholders of the NBA, viz. players and fans. The owners hired him 26 years ago to enforce an arcane set of rules that they agreed upon. A loyal fonctionnaire, he is good at his job and doesn't feel like leaving. This could be contrasted with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was appointed by a democratically-elected President and confirmed by a democratically-elected Senate. When I see Tim G's signature on my money, I know that he's the guy whom my representatives approved to manage the common fisc.

For this reason, my analogy might fall apart if you changed the hypothetical apartment building to mostly owner-occupied. In such case, the building manager could be seen as a truly democratically supported agent of the residents. In that case, I might not mind seeing his smiling mug as I stepped into the lift.

But I'm sorry, David Stern is not the face of the league. (That role can be inferred by looking at the guys who appear in NBA Cares ads: Nash, James, Bryant, Yao.) He has no popular accountability to anyone, save the 30 owners who control revenues and intangible assets of the league. And really, who cares about them?

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