What Kobe Bryant can teach NBA Commissioner David Stern.

The stadium scene.
June 12 2008 10:30 AM

Kobe for Commissioner!

What the Lakers star can teach David Stern.

Kobe Bryant. Click image to expand
Kobe Bryant during Game 3 of the 2008 NBA Finals

Is it narcissism if you're right? A year ago, Kobe Bryant threw a public snit, demanding a trade because his Los Angeles Lakers teammates weren't good enough to share the court with him. It was taken at the time as the latest act of selfishness from the league's most out-of-control prima donna—the man whose bloated ego had once made him unwilling to keep playing (and winning championships) with Shaquille O'Neal.

But the Lakers didn't trade Bryant. Under the pressure of his unhappiness, they made a midseason trade to add high-scoring 7-footer Pau Gasol. Now, in lieu of another first-round playoff exit, the Lakers are playing in the NBA Finals, in a marquee historical re-enactment with the Boston Celtics.

Advertisement

It's not often that a fit of selfishness makes so many other people happy. An early report had the TV ratings for the championship up more than 50 percent compared with last year, when the San Antonio Spurs thumped the Cleveland Cavaliers to national apathy. I watched Game 3 of the finals in a Beijing sports bar, where Chinese fans in Lakers gear broke into a chant of "M-V-P!" as Bryant closed out Boston down the stretch. Based on this year's events, they were aiming a little low. People ought to be touting Kobe for commissioner.

Bryant's trade demand was based on two premises: 1) Kobe Bryant should have been playing on a real championship contender, and 2) the Los Angeles Lakers should not suck. This is exactly what the people who market the NBA—and the people to whom the NBA is marketed—also believe. That makes it, for all practical purposes, true.

Bryant acts entitled because he is entitled. The NBA owes its popularity to having star players play for star franchises. But the current commissioner, David Stern, is unable to admit that such a debt exists.

For 11 months of the year—until it's time to promote a finals between two showcase teams—the league denies that it has any interest in favoring showcase teams. Instead of being on the surface, that favoritism has become the seamy subtext of Stern's long, otherwise successful reign: from the conspiracy theories that the 1985 draft lottery was rigged to send Patrick Ewing to the New York Knicks, to this week's allegations that officials fixed Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals to rescue the Lakers from the Sacramento Kings.

The Gasol trade—in which the Lakers gave up a package of moldy deadwood to get the Memphis Grizzlies' leading scorer—looked like yet another gift to a prestige franchise in need. So, to a lesser extent, did the trade that sent Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Celtics.

What the Timberwolves and Grizzlies have in common is that they didn't exist before the David Stern era. They were part of an aggressive expansion that added teams in new territory: Canada, Florida, the far edges of the Midwest. The trouble is, nobody wants to watch teams from those places. And half the league isn't worth watching.

Expansion was a con. Second- and third- and fourth-rate cities were lured into spending their money and time and attention on NBA teams of their own. But the teams they got are still second-class citizens (or worse). Suppose Kobe had been traded to Memphis or that Boston had sent Paul Pierce to join Garnett in Minnesota. How happy would people have been about a Grizzlies-Timberwolves playoff series?

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 3:33 PM Killing With Kindness My in-laws want to throw me a get-well-from-cancer bash. There’s no way I can go.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.