Bryant Gumble, at the end of the last episode of HBO’s Real Sports, infused serious racial overtones with the usual derogatory slams.
Stern’s version of what’s been going on behind closed doors has, of course, been disputed. But his efforts were typical of a commissioner, who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O. Like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials, his moves are intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.
This is that moment when people are arguing when, even through all the name-calling, everyone stops and says “ohhh, damn.” Taking it to the slavery days is not just inflammatory, it’s a tough sell. Before I go on, here’s the full video so you can get the context.
Gumbel is right about Stern’s intent: He’s twisting the events of what happened to suit his own needs. He takes shots at the players and the union and tries to paint himself in the best possible light. And these negotiations might have moved along a little faster if Stern had just focused on the issues, instead of trying to make a public point.
This is where Bryant and I go our separate ways.
Maybe it’s because Bryant is black and I’m not. I can’t possibly see things from the black perspective no matter how understanding and open I try to be. I’ve never had a racial epithet hurled my way. So I get that I might not “get it” alll the time.
But calling Stern the plantation overseer keeping his “boys” in check paints this as slave-and-owner dynamic that is neither fair, nor accurate. These players are paid exorbitant amounts of money to play a game. They are not only not slaves toiling under the oppressive thumb of David Stern, they are mostly young black men who have been made quite rich and have been given an opportunity to pull their families out of bad situations and help their community.
Furthermore, the NBA mandates an extremely high level of charitable work on a daily basis, most of which focuses on schools, poor communities, and even struggling nations overseas.
I am no defender of David Stern and his conduct in these negotiations. I do think he’s trying to make himself look good while trying to break the union. I think he and the owners have set out on the wrong path and are more interested in overhauling the system to a point where they have wrested every bit of a player’s power to have a say in his future. I disagree vehemently with that path and think there is a much more fair solution that could be achieved if David Stern wasn’t so tyrannical.
But even with the many harsh words I’ve written about Stern, I know “plantation overseer” unfairly crosses a line. The NBA is no plantation. It’s a paradise providing people with lifestyles that they never could have imagined. So what if they have to dress up on a road trip?
Words matter more than ever. And these words were horribly chosen.