David Stern: Master of Puppets

Post-publication preface: On Friday, January 3, it was announced that NBA players & referees will wear black bands on their uniforms for the rest of the season to honor David Stern. This symbolism keeps all the actors ethereally tethered to that great basketball commissioner in the sky.

The puppet master of the NBA just passed away yesterday from a brain hemorrhage at age 77. David Stern was the manipulator responsible for bring Patrick Ewing to the NY Knicks; allowing Shaquille O’Neal to travel & brutalize opponents at will for a decade; and always had Joey Crawford ready to fix a crucial game of a play-off series– to make sure the “right” team won. David Stern led the NBA to new financial heights with a leadership style comparable to a mafia don.

I’m the only one writing this in the media, but I’m not crazy. The near-universal praise for David Stern posthumously is from those players, coaches & sportswriters who were taken into his confidence, and always knew how to obey & get in line when “requested” it.

Let’s start with what you know about basketball. Here’s a quick quiz to prove. Who’s the greatest basketball player ever?  The correct answer is Wilt Chamberlain– the most dominant player ever: 30 points, 23 rebounds & 10+ blocks per game for his career. Blocks weren’t kept as a NBA stat until after Chamberlain retired, but 10-12 blocks per game is a fair estimate for his career. Those are silly numbers, and no one else is comparable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is probably the second greatest basketball player ever (it’s all about the big man in hoops), and he was dominated by Wilt Chamberlain in their few match-ups in the 1970’s.

Wilt didn’t win championships like Bill Russell, because the Boston Celtics were an elite franchise with Red Auerbach as coach & GM, the best of his era, and basketball is a team game. The Big Dipper played on lesser teams, until he joined the LA Lakers for the final 5 seasons of his 14-year NBA career. Chamberlain never fouled out of a NBA game, which is impossible for anyone else.

Wilt Chamberlain still holds over 90 NBA records, 45 years after retiring. He was a Harlem Globetrotter before joining the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959, and he had handles. Wilt Chamberlain led the league in assists, while also leading in scoring & rebounding– another impossible feat accomplished only by The Record Book.

The rule for opponents was, “Don’t get him mad.” If you tried to disrespect, trash-talk, cheat or trip-up Wilt Chamberlain, then you unleashed the beast– which no one could handle. Chamberlain then goes for 60 points, 40 rebounds & 25 blocked shots; which means he totally dominates the game and his team wins 98-57. That happened a few times, and opponents afterwards humbly apologized & promised to never disrespect him again.

If they were sincere & Chamberlain believed them, then he would go back to 30 points, 23 boards & 10 blocks next game, and everybody was happy. Just let him do his thing and prove to everybody that he’s the best, and he’ll let you play too. That was Wilt Chamberlain. There’s never been another player like that, and there never will be. If you didn’t know this already, then you REALLY need to listen to me on what I’m saying about David Stern, because you don’t know hoops.

The rise of the NBA came about because of Magic Johnson & Larry Bird entering the league in 1979-80, and then Michael Jordan’s arrival in 1984. The original 1992 Dream Team was the NBA’s zenith era, as far as quality of play & level of competitiveness. When Shaq bolted from Orlando to LA to join Kobe, and Phil Jackson was brought in to manage them in the late-1990’s, the NBA became a different league.

In this “new school” era, high school players declared themselves eligible for the NBA draft after their senior year. The money had gotten so big, that you had to do this if you were Kevin Garnett, LeBron James or Dwight Howard. The “one & done” NCAA standout becomes commonplace after David Stern institutes an age requirement for the NBA, ending the era of high school players from entering the draft.

Shooting percentages, offensive efficiency, and ratings have all declined since Micheal Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls after winning their 6th NBA title in 1998. The great players of his era had all retired, or were about to, and the new school game was here to stay. New school means a different attitude, which allows young players who haven’t earned the respect of their peers to act like prima donnas, because they are paid like superstars and have endorsements on television. The term “coach killer” enters NBA lexicon.

In this new era, players are now paid on potential, because all the existing talent has been scooped up. Anything young with basketball potential attracts everyone’s attention, and that’s when the bidding war starts. The latest incarnation of this phenomenon is Zion Williamson, the “one-and-done” Duke Blue Devil, who became the #1 pick last June. He hurt himself early, and still hasn’t made his NBA debut with the New Orleans Pelicans. His contract pays him $9,757,440 for this season, and it’s considered a bargain in the industry. This is the progress David Stern brought.

So the questions are: Is the NBA better because of David Stern? Was Stern the “smartest man in the room,” or a manipulative master of puppets? How much damage did he do to the game from an integrity standpoint? These questions were never seriously raised when he was commissioner, as he squelched all NBA dissent with a wry smile to the media & an iron fist behind closed doors.

This was a powerful, well-connected individual, who acted the role of mafia don, because that’s what he was. The NBA was under his commissionership from 1984 to 2014, and he ruled absolutely. He was there for the greatest explosion in popularity in league history, which was due to its great stars– primarily Michael Jordan, and the advances in technology such as cable & satellite TV– and then the internet. That’s the real reason for the massive increases in revenue for the NBA.

David Stern was the tough-minded businessman who always took the considerations of the owners, sponsors & networks as primary. The players, coaches, & fans came to be treated as tools for manipulation to extract more money.

Many new arenas were built (& re-built) in the David Stern era. Each time the seats became more costly. For those who couldn’t afford front row on the floor, they became more distant & cramped. The games got noisier during time-outs, at halftime, and even during the game. The David Stern approach was the classic business theory of catering to the “casual fan,” which always diminishes the game.

Either you like basketball, and want to see a NBA game, or you aren’t interested. Today, there are enough fans to fill any arena, but if the product has been diluted & degraded by NBA greed & malfeasance, then fans will turn elsewhere– as they have choices. Appealing to the “casual fan” who is more interested in his/her cell phone, than the action on the floor, while delivering an inferior & boring product doesn’t help grow the game.

This is what happened at the end of David Stern’s reign, and it defines many of the NBA franchises today. There are only 4-5 teams that can win a championship in any given season. Since the break-up of Shaq & Kobe in LA, stars group together to form super-teams which can make a run at multiple titles. It was LeBron James going to Miami, then Kevin Durant to Golden State. Everyone else is fodder.

In all of the official sportswriters obituaries, there is no mention of NBA betting scandals & rigged officiating in the playoffs. The Kings/Lakers series in 2002 was the most blatant fix in NBA history– the point where many “old school” basketball fans quit watching. Ridiculous.

The LA Lakers winning titles means better ratings, and this is a large part of how league revenue grew so much under David Stern’s watch. NBA players & coaches can’t criticize the officiating without getting huge fines. This is the ugly, unreported legacy of David Stern as NBA commissioner. The money got bigger than ever, while the game became unwatchable due to this corruption. ESPN and all the rest looked the other way, and took their cut.

When it comes to true power, it’s the one pulling the strings that matters. Despite the greatness of every NBA superstar from Bird, Magic & Michael to Shaq, Kobe & LeBron; all of them were/are puppets compared to David Stern. It’s the one manipulating the action, deciding which match-ups you will see, and ultimately who wins– that has the the power.

As a society we are fascinated by powerful people, but that doesn’t mean they deserve blind admiration. The fake corporate media censors what you read & hear about the ugly underbelly of the NBA, because its “caretakers” know the depth of this cynicism & corruption. It’s considered “bad for the game” to discuss any of this openly & honestly, because ratings may go down even further. Little-to-no consideration is given to open admission of guilt & sin, allowing the game to heal itself and restore its integrity. These ideas were always an anathema to David Stern & his sycophants.


The NBA: I Can’t Watch This Game

      1. RIDICULOUS - Ric Size

Ridiculous                RS: vocals, guitar, bass;  TomP: percussion & production


“Basketball, of all sports, is easiest to manipulate.” — Garth Woolsey, sports columnist for the Toronto Star

The NBA arguably sports the best athletes in the world.
Basketball is a deceptively simple game; one that looks easy, but in actuality is very difficult to play well.
Ambidextrous skills are required, and its speed & quickness are hard for non-players to truly judge & appreciate.

When played well, professional basketball is a beautiful TEAM game.

So why does the NBA, the best basketball league in the world, continue to have declining television viewership & fan attendance?  It’s because the NBA is perceived by many basketball purists as being selfish, dirty, and a fixed league.  Evidence for this thesis is best illustrated with video proof, provided below.

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy became infamous in 2007, before reports of a FBI investigation into his betting on games he officiated during his final two seasons.
Donaghy was found guilty, and spent 11 months in prison for his actions.
He cooperated with the FBI, in exchange for a reduced sentence.  In his testimony he described the nature of NBA officiating under commissioner David Stern, which is illustrated in this 60 Minutes interview and his book, Personal Foul: A First Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA.

Any whistleblower must be judged for their integrity, to be determined credible. As the scandal broke, Stern was asked by the media about Tim Donaghy’s rating as an official, his response was, “As a matter of on-court performance, he’s in the top tier of accuracy.”  No evidence has ever been produced implicating Tim Donaghy for fixing any games he officiated, either for himself or the NBA.


The idea that a LEAGUE would fix its games, including its championship series, is unthinkable to many–yet it makes sense when sports are looked upon as a business, which is precisely what they are.
Professional sports are defined by the courts as entertainment, and the leagues including the NFL, MLB, NHL & NBA are legally allowed to fix their games, if they so choose.
Fixing games, in order to maximize fan interest & television ratings is simply smart business.


The most popular and marketable player in NBA history was undoubtedly Michael Jordan. After Larry Bird & Magic Johnson retired in the early 1990’s, Jordan became the centerpiece in David Stern’s strategy of marketing its biggest names.  Preferential treatment from the refs had become the norm for star players, and Air Jordan became unguardable, in every sense of the term.  The Chicago Bulls would win 6 championships from 1991-98, with very little resistance, as none of those NBA Finals went more than six games, in a best-of-seven format.

By the time of Michael Jordan’s second retirement, the NBA fell into a ratings crisis, from which they still haven’t recovered; the 2014 regular season & post-season ratings are half of what they were in 1998, Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls.


The NBA from February 1, 1984 – January 31, 2014, was under the control of commissioner David Stern, a high-powered lawyer known for his dictatorial style.  He inherited a league on the rise with Bird & Magic providing a natural rivalry in Boston & LA, and an influx of talent in the mid 1980’s that would become the heart of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team; likely the best basketball team ever assembled, even though it excluded all-time NBA greats Hakeem Olajuwan and Isiah Thomas.

As these legends faded & retired in the 1990’s, what largely replaced them wasn’t at that level of greatness & maturity. The next generation of NBA stars were often players who left college early, including:  Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Vince Carter, and Jason Kidd; or in the cases of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and later LeBron James– jumped straight from high school to the NBA.  These young players whom David Stern chose to elevate to superstar status, were often seen more for their selfish behaviour–on & off the court, than for their basketball skills.

Criticism of star players & the officiating in particular was always muted by Stern, who labelled it “corrosive.”  The Director of Officiating and league officials office, which represents the NBA owners, were staffed with yes-men who would comply with Stern’s diktats.  Ed T. Rush, Ronnie Nunn, Stu Jackson, and Rod Thorn were the mediocrities deputized to manipulate officiating and gag any criticism, with a system of financially punitive fines and suspensions-without-pay.

Players, coaches, team executives & owners were punitively fined for publicly questioning officiating. Referees are still not permitted to speak to the media unless the NBA approves it in advance.  All this has led to a double standard in officiating, where star players & top-money teams benefit, in order generate fan ‘excitement’ & maximize revenue.  This process, which began in the 1980’s, qualitatively changed in the 2000’s, where league championships & playoff series are now rigged to ensure marquee match-ups & prolonged series, in order to generate more revenue.

Two of the most infamous examples (there are many more) of the NBA manipulating championship outcomes are:

2002 Western Conference Finals:  Lakers/Kings
This blatant officiating bias was clear to anyone watching at the time.  Over a decade later, it is still pointed to by basketball fans as the most obvious fix in NBA history.  Shaq & Kobe, along with head coach Phil Jackson and half of Hollywood in the crowd, were certainly the favorites of David Stern.  The Sacramento Kings were clearly the best team in the 2001-02 NBA, and this entire series was a tragic farce.  Anyone who claims this horrible officiating was an accident is either lying or hopelessly naive.

2006 NBA Finals:  Heat/Mavericks
After Shaq was traded by the Lakers, he teamed with D-Wade in Miami to become the newest NBA dynamic duo and David Stern marketing darling.
Watch this critical final sequence at the end of pivotal Game 5 (series tied at 2-2, tie score), as Dwyane Wade commits a back-court violation on the in-bounds pass (not called), then drives and gets the phantom foul call to win the game at the free throw line.
This was a re-occurring scenario all series, and is one of the examples discussed in Donaghy’s book.

The prize of the inaugural 1985 NBA Draft Lottery was Patrick Ewing (C, Georgetown), and it was well understood that NBA commissioner David Stern wanted him in the biggest media market.
Stern is also a lifelong Knicks fan.
The NY Daily News reported the accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney, hired by the NBA to seal the envelopes, also audited the accounts of Gulf + Western.
Gulf + Western (renamed Paramount in 1989) owned the NY Knicks in 1985.
Watch this video and note the fourth envelope as it is tossed into the side of the drum, folding a corner.
It is this bent envelope which David Stern reaches for, uncreases with his left hand, and then announces as being the #1 pick.

Of course all this video evidence is circumstantial, as hard proof of manipulation as policy is impossible without an admission from higher-ups.  Stern would say he’s not that good a magician; his opponents would point out that he is.

It is simply the consistency of this circumstantial evidence that leads so many to the conclusion, the NBA is fixed.  The whistles & lottery winners favor large-market franchises & star players so overwhelmingly, that the chances of this being a coincidence are statistically reduced to nil. Decide for yourself.


Physical play is another feature of the NBA– No Bitches Allowed.  Its de-evolution into downright dirty play, is a reflection of ruling-class values.  The plutocracy that dominates our global political economy is the core ideology for all professional sports, and therefore rigged leagues with unequal rules and condoned violence are logical outcomes.

Some of the NBA’s biggest stars are allowed to be its dirtiest players, for instance watch what happens to those who try to defend Kobe Bryant:


Watch here as Dwyane Wade kicks his defender in the groin, cross-checks opponents going to the basket, and generally take offense to any player who attempts to guard him closely. All this earned him a one-game suspension, in total.

Bruce Bowen was probably the dirtiest player of this era, which is quite a statement.  His speciality was walking under the jump shooter to have them land on his foot and roll their ankle, as shown time after time in this video:

How does the NBA not suspend for karate-kicking a jump-shooter in the face?

Bruce Bowen had his 500 consecutive games-played streak snapped in 2008, when he was suspended one game (the only suspension of his career) for kicking Chris Paul while down on the floor, shown here:

Unfortunately this is just a sample of what he was allowed to get away with, as his ‘lockdown defense’ helped the San Antonio Spurs win 3 NBA titles during his career.

In Personal Fouls, Tim Donaghy discusses the makeup of a typical NBA crowd, “It seems that night after night, arenas throughout the league are loaded with wisecracking, inebriated hecklers who are just itching for a fight.”  Donaghy narrates what it was like to officiate one of the ugliest scenes in American sports history, the ‘Malice in the Palace,’  a full-scale brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, which spilled into the stands and then back onto the court, on November 19, 2004:

A progenitor of this sort of play was Bill Laimbeer, as Larry Bird discusses in this clip.

This cheap shot on Scottie Pippen is a fair example of the Detroit Pistons ‘Bad Boy’ style in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, which really has no place in basketball:

Today the Pistons of this era are glorified, and what we now have in the NBA is less like real basketball, and more like UFC & WWE.  The NBA has become largely unwatchable to many purist fans who value integrity and fair play.  Any comparisons of players in this era to greats of the past becomes difficult, if not impossible, due to the distortions of the rules.  When star players of today are allowed to travel and foul at both ends without being whistled, how does a fan compare them to earlier-era players?

The individual stats & championship ring totals of modern NBA superstars have too often been league-aided; achieved through rigged refereeing. Acknowledge the puppet-master, not the puppets.  Basketball fans rightly feel the NBA has no legitimacy anymore, and the only solution at this point is to stop watching.  Please join us.


My All-Time NBA Team

12 Players– listed in order

PG: Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson
SG: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant
SF: Larry Bird, LeBron James
PF: Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan (4/5)
C:  Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon

Inactive List (3 players maximum, all out with phantom injuries)

PG: Isiah Thomas
SF: Charles Barkley
PF: Dirk Nowitzki

A great coaching staff & front office is needed to handle these egos:

Red Auerbach
Jerry West
Phil Jackson
Tex Winter
Doc Rivers

Favorite Player All-Time: PG Darrell Armstrong, #10 Orlando Magic– Heart & Hustle