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.


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?



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.