As of Monday the commish had not elaborated on his decision to suspend Sprewell, nor on the players association's grievances against the Warriors and the NBA. Initial reaction to what might become known as his pin-striped manifesto ("A sports league does not have to accept or condone behavior that would not be tolerated in any other segment of society") seemed positive, at least to a public fed up with bad behavior from millionaire athletes. But naysayers are starting to say nay.
Stern may be able to discount the comments of San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who last week danced around his office on one foot while jamming the other in his mouth. "Maybe the coach deserved choking" is one of the things Brown was quoted as saying before backing off with a comment that "there is no justification for violence of any nature in our society." But Stern has to be hearing other voices of discontent. One agent who knows Sprewell well and considers him a "toxic" individual, nevertheless wonders if Stern botched it by rushing to judgment and believes the arbitrator who considers the union's grievances will shorten the suspension. Should that happen, it would represent Stern's biggest defeat in his glorious 13-year run as the commissioner's commissioner. No player has condoned Sprewell's attack, but several are angered by the fact that he did not get a hearing before he was suspended. "Sprewell crossed the line in his behavior," says Atlanta Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo. "But so did David Stern."
And if Stern ordered the suspension partly to underscore the NBA's no-nonsense intentions when the league reopens the two-year-old collective bargaining agreement in April, some say he overplayed his hand. "This is why we are afraid to give the NBA leverage on, say, our drug policy," says Buck Williams, the New York Knicks' veteran forward. "It concerns me when the NBA acts as judge and jury." As past president of the players association, Williams would be expected to give a pro-union pronouncement, but his is a thoughtful and influential voice, and Stern, no doubt, hears it.
The commissioner, who is a lawyer and who has another legal eagle at his side in deputy commissioner Russ Granik, has made a career out of farsighted decisions. As angry and fed up as he might've been, it's hard to believe that he would blow this one. The Sprewell suspension may yet again stamp Stern as the Anti-Selig, the commissioner with the firmest grip on his game.
As for the other problems, well, NBA spokesmen are united in their stance that this train wreck of a season will get on track eventually and that there's good news galore. Here's how they read it.
The recent four-year, $2.6 billion TV contract demonstrated that NBC and Turner Sports have confidence in the league, even post-Jordan. O'Neal (abdominal muscle strain) is being reexamined this week, and Mourning should return by Christmas, his surgically repaired left knee presumably healed. Olajuwon's return from arthroscopic surgery (also on his left knee) is scheduled for early February. Scottie (I Ain't Coming Back) Pippen will realize that he would be ringless had he not been in Chicago the past 10 seasons. Barkley is simply Barkley. Another pretty well-known superstar endured years of frustration before his team became a winner, so Grant Hill has plenty of time. And look at the real bright news: Five weeks and counting, and Dennis Rodman hasn't done anything crazier than showing up at the United Center in teddy-bear pajamas.
As you put down Li'l Penny's book and turn out the light, you're still a true believer. You've heard that word cyclical, and you're sure things will get good again. As for now, the Lakers, even without Shaq, are fun to watch. Tim Duncan and David Robinson are bound to start playing better together in San Antonio. This new guy Keith Van Horn may even make the New Jersey Nets exciting, and isn't it neat how the Hawks have put it all together?
But Michael says he's quitting. Man, it's going to be tough to be a true believer without him around.