Since 1984, David Stern has turned the NBA into a money making juggernaut that has turned athletes into merchandising icons. He's often regarded as one of the best pro sports executives around, and in 20 years on the job, the truth is out. He just doesn't get it. Sure the NBA soared in the '80s, gaining 500% in revenue from the before-Stern era. Of course, Michael Jordan just happened to start his career in '84, and Larry Legend, the Kissing Bandits, and others were hitting their stride. To be fair, Stern is one hell of a negotiator. Just last year he negotiated television contracts with a 24% increase, despite NBC reporting a $300-million dollar loss over the last 4-year contract. He knows his way through an executive boardroom.

Despite his financial and marketing successes, nature had better make sure he doesn't have kids. They might was well reserve a room in the nearest juvenile detention center for them, because he can't even make employees behave. According to Jeff Benedict, 177 players from the 2001-02 season had criminal records. That is one out of every three players. Imagine walking down the street and knowing that one out of every three people is possibly going to something to you. Most people call an environment like that "jail."

Stern speaks
In Stern's NBA, crime has become FUN-damental.

Even if skeptics doubt that statistic, even if it were halved the number would be one in six NBA players that have a criminal record. That doesn't include traffic stops and lost and found. It's a good thing that Sir Charles isn't a role model, because the NBA is out of control. The ironic part of Barkeley's comment is that he can thank Stern for putting him in that position. By dint of superior marketing, NBA ballers are role models. It's just something that comes with being successful, and, like or not, there is a level of success by being in the NBA. Don't be blinded by the likes of Greg Ostertag. So why is this Stern's fault?

The funny thing about top executives is that they are held responsible for the behavior of their company. Interestingly enough, executives can also set policy for the expectations of conduct from their employees, and make no mistake, pro players are employees. Stern has had his chance to set expectations and limits for his players. Sprewell choking Coach Carlesimo, Kobe's method of tipping room service, Artest battling his private demons (for your information, all demons come from Detroit), and Jayson Williams' shotgun "tour" are all easy examples of inexcusable behaviors on and off the court. For the keywords of "NBA" and "crime," Yahoo! supplied 4.99 million hits. And it's not a far stretch to see how these crimes are the worst growth of a more common problem with ego. As the isolation has become the mainstay, and dunks have become more common than passes, the post-game interview is becoming a 3-minute self-promotion period for players.

Why aren't these players held to an ethical standard? This isn't just about the inherent value of obeying the law anymore. Americans are getting tired of hearing about various NBA players getting busted for a variety of crimes. When the NBA enjoyed the success of the '80s and '90s, players had two characteristics. The first is that they were shown as remarkable individuals, who had beat the odds to excel and have this chance. The second is that viewers and fans could relate to the players. Ranging from the working class guy to the executive in the office, most Americans could have pictured themselves in one of those jerseys. Whom do Americans want to be now? Iverson? Kobe? Not in most cases. Of course, the claim that individuals like Iverson provide an example for disadvantaged urban youth, especially black youth. Overlooking the fact that most African American players in the league come from non-urban, poor childhoods, is it really doing those kids a service by having players with criminal records be their role model? And from a colder, economic view, is the urban market really the cash cow that the NBA is looking for?

The bottom line Stern has to address is whether allowing bad behavior and criminal behaviors go unaddressed is advantageous to the NBA? It seems unlikely that the public is going to keep watching criminals and thugs. It frustrating to know that Stern recently had his chance. When the Pacers and the Pistons had their little brawl last year, Stern would have had the political capital to force new policies on the players union. And yes, big name players would likely have been a casualty of the erupting battle. But once the smoke cleared, it'd be a league worth watching again. As Stern continues to plod on with his hands-off policy, the NBA is becoming truly basketbawful.
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