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Monday, December 11, 2006
David Stern Drops New Basketball Crusade

According to ESPN, NBA Commissioner David Stern will announce tomorrow that on January 1, 2007, the league will drop its new "microfiber balls" and bring back the traditional leather ball. The ball has drawn widespread rebuke from players as being uncomfortable and difficult to grasp, and Steve Nash and Jason Kidd even say that it cuts their hands. These complaints over both comfort and safety have reached legal significance, as the NBPA recently filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB to have the ball replaced. That will no longer be necessary as Stern has essentially capitulated.

Skip Oliva over at the Voluntary Trade Blog has an insightful reaction to Stern's decision and the broader implications it may have on Stern and professional sports commissioners in general:
I consider this a “jump the shark” moment for Stern because the seemingly arbitrary decision to change the ball represented the zenith of Stern’s bureaucratic (and some would say autocratic) management policies. The new ball’s failure may signal at least a temporary end to Stern’s increasing centralization of power.

I’ve long complained about the existence of professional sports commissioners, arguing that even the title “commissioner” confers a quasi-governmental authority on what is nominally a business executive’s position. One problem is that commissioners have no equity stake in the organization that they are nominally CEO of—Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig being a quasi-exception, given that he owned the Milwaukee Brewers while serving as “acting commissioner”—and absent this equity, commissioners trend towards bureaucratic management. (See Ludwig Von Mises’s classic work Bureaucracy for a detailed explanation of bureaucratic management.)

Stern is Exhibit A for bureaucratic management. His policies are designed to do little more than consolidate his own power without benefiting the league or its customers. One example is the off-the-court dress code imposed on all players starting in 2005. Another is the arbitrary 19-year-old age requirement designed to keep high school graduates from playing immediately in the NBA. And then there’s the classic example of Stern silencing the NBA’s owners—his own bosses—who dare to criticize the league’s management or officiating in public. As I noted in an earlier post, if a CEO of a publicly-traded company tried to silence his critics, all hell (and the SEC) would break loose.

See also
A Revolution Against David Stern and Creeping Orwellianism? (11/21/2006)
NBA Player Autonomy: How Should We Define It? (11/28/2006)
Update on David Stern and NBA Player Autonomy (11/29/2006)


Mr. Oliva again (second time in a few days) makes a very ill-fitting analogy between Stern and the CEO of a publicly-traded corporation. If you insist on using this poor representation, then you must rather look at the players and team executives as "employees" of the NBA organization, rather than shareholders, as the league is not in any way a publicly-traded organization, but rather a private one. Clearly if the employees (not shareholders) of a company were to come out in the media and take shots at the CEO, they would be penalized. Period. And not just nominal fines, but likely terminated in most cases.

"His policies are designed to do little more than consolidate his own power without benefiting the league or its customers. One example is the off-the-court dress code imposed on all players starting in 2005..." It seems very apparent to those of us with sport marketing backgrounds that Commissioner Stern instituted this policy for marketing/branding purposes, reflecting concerns about the image of the league and its players given the demographic makeup of the league's customer base. Now, Mr. Oliva, if you have some proof to support your argument that Stern is more concerned with his own power than in benefitting the league that employs him, I'd be interested in hearing it.

Blogger Chad McEvoy -- 12/12/2006 10:39 AM  

Is this a sports law blog or just a "ranting forum" regurgitating stuff that has been said before. Why doesnt someone write on how the NLRB grievance could have influenced the decision? Cuts on hands resulting in injury to union members therefore providing an unsafe working enviorment? Anyone want to write on some real legal issues?

Blogger Brian Cuban -- 12/13/2006 7:26 PM  

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