Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stern does the right thing - smacks Gilbert

One of my good friends - Curtis Bunn - a former journalist at the New York Daily News. Newsday and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution often would ask the same rhetorical question.

"What is going on in this world?"

Monday night, I asked the same question when NBA Commissioner David Stern announced he'd fined the Cleveland Cavaliers $100,000 for owner Dan Gilbert's comments after LeBron James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat.

Wow! Stern and I finally agreed on something. Stern has only one way- that's his way - and I've had a beef with him that he'd likely never remember and I'll never forget.

However, Stern and I are one on recognizing Gilbert's comments were way out of line and he had earned a huge fine and discipline.
I began covering the NBA before Stern became commissioner, so I've seen the amazing progress and success the league has experienced under his heavy-handed direction.

I've also seen Stern - a relative little guy among the sea of giants who play in the NBA -run the league as if it was his domain. Those who work for him in the league recognize his intelligence as well as his ability to seemingly know what occurs at every level.

Stern is a bully. That doesn't make him too different from many great leaders. It doesn't lessen the damage his mannerisms exact.

He's also a brilliant businessman and has a sound idea of what is positive and negative for the league. As commissioner, he governs the league, but works for the owners.

Yet, he didn't hesitate to spank Gilbert when required. Stern did so because Gilbert's stupid, fan-like reactions resembled something one might read among the idiotic comments following an internet story.

When Rev. Jesse Jackson reacted publicly to Gilbert's comments, I wondered what took him so long. Jackson's comparison of Gilbert's reaction to that of an owner to a runaway slave was similar to one I'd heard from many of my friends.

Stern said Monday night that he disagreed with Jackson's assessment, but as the commissioner he almost had to say that. And comparing a 25-year, multi-millionaire basketball player to a slave on any level certainly leaves Jackson open to skepticism.

However, I understood where Jackson and my numerous friends were coming from. Just as I understand where many white friends and observers where coming from with their disapprovals of the analogy.

Quite often, african-americans and white-americans will see the same words and react differently. That's a tremendous generalization, but one I feel accurate.

The groups of people also will include many varied assessments and opinions, race perhaps not as integral as influential as environments and experiences by which we've been shaped.

I'm guessing Jackson was speaking for himself and not representing the entirety of black america. And because the comments of Jackson and Al Sharpton often are lightning rods for who they are as much as what they say, understanding of their comments sometimes go astray.

Personally, as I wrote the night James made his announcement, Gilbert's reactions sounded like a jilted lover. I didn't attach any racial significance to his response. He just seemed like a spoiled little rich kid, not the owner of a major professional sports franchise.

Ultimately, we're all just people. Some more emotional and calculating than others. Just because an owner has oodles of money doesn't mean he or she is incapable of acting irrationally or stupidly.

Moreover, I still believe there still is more to the James-Gilbert relationship than we know. Perhaps a $100,000 fine will discourage Gilbert from further rants, but one never knows.

There'll never be another like Steinbrenner

I'm 100 pages into Bill Madden's portrait of George Steinbrenner and his death at age 80 today affects me a little differently than it would have prior to reading this book.

The first time I remember crying connected to a sporting event was in 1960 when Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a home run to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

I was five years old and a hard-core Yankees/Mickey Mantle fan. There were no New York Mets at the time. My late father hated the Yankees for two reasons - they were one of the last teams to sign an african-american player and he lost money on them in a World Series, I'm guessing in 1942.

Fast forward to my early days as a sportswriter in 1978 as I remember seeing Steinbrenner for the first time. I was in the Yankees' press box and when walking to my seat, Steinbrenner was walking directly towards me.

I realized how large and imposing a figure he was. I only knew what I'd read about him - he was a bully with an undying quest to win. He didn't care who you were and what you were about. If you could help him win, he'd be down with you - until you no longer could.

Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees spent money and he demanded excellence. I sat in the auxillary press box directly next to the glass-covered booth in which he sat. Steinbrenner wore his feelings on his sleeve and you could see him stand up and wave his hands at a play or an umpire's call.

Through the glass, you could hear him scream.

However, Steinbrenner was a great businessman and recognized that spending money was one way to keep his team in the mix every year.

The Yankees, during his leadership, always have been accused of buying championships. And I can almost hear Steinbrenner saying, "So what?" Baseball has no salary cap and since there was nothing he wouldn't do to win, Steinbrenner was going to spend.

If it meant signing players such as Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry and/or Dwight Gooden, each of whom had highly-public problems with drugs, so be it.

Steinbrenner indeed had heart and compassion. You just had to work to find them.

Losing public address announcer Bob Sheppard and Steinbrenner the same week signals a change of eras for the Yankees.

I'm out. I'm going to read to read some more of "Steinbrenner - The Last Lion of Baseball."

No comments:

Post a Comment