Hey, I love HBO’s Real Sports, and I usually find myself agreeing with Gumbel’s show-closing editorials about 95% of the time, but man, what the fuck is this?
Look, I am a firm believer that the NBA deals with racism on a level that most people either ignore or seek to downplay. I’ve always thought that. Call it a perception issue, or the reality of a sport that suffers from a paucity of white stars. Call it whatever you want to, but I do believe it plays a role. I think Stern does too, and has always handled this as deftly and shrewdly as possible. All of the rules and edicts he has implemented over the years, from the dress code to the minimum age requirement to the crackdown on violence in the game were all efforts to shield the league and it’s players from such negative stereotyping in the wake of the Ron Artest melee. Stern was smart enough to know that he was fighting a negative perception that was predicated as much on race as anything else, and that he had to protect his league at all costs. The idea that Gumbel sees this as Stern lording over the players is not only off the mark, but dangerously ignorant.
I mean, I know Bryant Gumbel has always been an outspoken civil rights guy and I sort of get where he thinks he’s coming from here, but man oh man, why play the race thing here. What really bothers me is that near the end of his rant, Gumbel actually concedes that the NBA labor system is broken and in need of fixing but neglects to mention that it’s the players who have benefited from said broken system for a decade now.
And that’s the crux of the argument here. If Stern is being critical of the players, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that his anger and frustration over the failure to make peace is borne of what he perceives as the players’ refusal to accept the new financial reality? Can’t he just be a man who wants a labor peace and what is best for the long term health of the league, and not some power mad dictator hell-bent on keeping the boys in line or whatever?
Fair enough to call Stern a firm authority figure. Call him arrogant, or even smug, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Choosing to go this route however, is just plain sad.