I see that last week former NBA Commissioner David Stern died suddenly.
Stern was a huge figure in US sport. He became NBA boss in 1984, just a couple of years after the NBA Finals were seen as small potatoes: they weren’t even broadcast live on television. Pro basketball was a minor sport, small-time and insignificant.
By the time he stepped down after 30 years at the helm basketball was a global sporting superpower: necessary viewing, a sport making inroads into the lucrative Chinese market, one boasting one-name superstars known all over the world and well-regarded among all professional sports for its (relative) social awareness.
The NBA teams themselves, in total, were worth $12 billion (€10.75bn) .
It wasn’t an easy road for Stern in his three decades as commissioner. There were strikes and lock-outs, controversial franchise moves which stripped cities of beloved teams, missteps such as the imposition of a dress code which was seen as racially charged, not to mention left-field challenges such as handling superstar Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive.
The reaction to Stern’s passing tells you a lot. LeBron James’ statement tipped off with “Thank you for your commitment to the beautiful game of basketball that has changed so many young adult/kids lives” and Michael Jordan’s began with “Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today.” Magic Johnson said of Stern’s support when the player revealed he had HIV: “He gave me my life back.”
What’s more interesting to me, though, is how adaptable the commissioner model is to Irish sport.
Looking at some of the major field sports here, would a single-person commissioner be a more dynamic presence than the committee approach beloved by so many organisations?
The checks and balances provided by a more collegiate system have much to recommend them, but isn’t there also frustration at times with the slowness of progress when a show of hands is needed for every decision?
There’s no need for everyone to shout at once about the perils of having one person in charge of a sport, whether officially or unofficially. You don’t have to look too far to see what happens when a single person is allowed to dominate the agenda of a sporting organisation for years.
But is that part of the problem — that by definition individuals who become the power behind the throne do so by stealth and influence rather than by open decree? Surely it would be better if the process were open and transparent, with a large sporting organisation transferring executive power to an individual in a formal way rather than allowing someone to gather influence behind the scenes? Wouldn’t an open process lower the risk factor?
After all, it’d be self-defeating to rule out a particular option because it didn’t work out when it was half-implemented under a previous regime. Anyone would think that the committee system was reinforcing its own strength by pointing out the dangers of . . . well, maybe we’ll just leave that one lie.
For his part, Stern said of the job he did: “All that I do is knock myself out to represent their interests the best way I can.” But Stern was referring to the club owners, not the players in the NBA. Perhaps that’s the ultimate retort to the idle notion of a Commissioner: who would he or she ultimately be serving?
The participants? The administrators? The public? Until we can decide that, perhaps there’s something to be said for the committee system after all.
A New Year resolution
One of those regular ‘that was a quick year’ reminders pops up again, I see.
Tomorrow night the UCC hurlers take on Cork (seniors) in the annual Canon O’Brien Cup at the Mardyke (throw-in 7pm.) As per usual this is a free gig but you’re encouraged to make a donation to the charity of the night, in this case St Columba’s GNS with a facility for deaf children in Douglas, Cork.
Even if the first week of January seems a little early for you to be heading out to watch games (don’t mind me, I just didn’t bother stopping for Christmas), this one is always worth checking out.
If you’re roaming the Western Road and environs tomorrow do yourself a favour and drop in to have a look at least.
Sport’s golden age of ignorance
The real world continues to intrude on our playground here. Sorry to raise this matter with you, but it’s true. Take the fires in Australia, where already (according to my admittedly haphazard conversion skills) an area equivalent to three-quarters the size of the island of Ireland is on fire.
It may seem tactless to raise this as people are literally cowering on beaches to escape the flames, but it’s being raised nonetheless: how can Australia play a cricket test against New Zealand at a time when smoke from those bush fires is such an issue that umpires have to be kept informed about the air quality?
A while back I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column about sports fans maybe having to examine their consciences about travelling to games given their carbon footprint. That looks like a golden age of ignorance in the face, or the shade, of the Australian fires.
Then there are the other disasters. US Soccer released a statement last Friday beginning: “Due to the developing situation in the region, US Soccer has decided to postpone traveling to Qatar for the Men’s National Team’s scheduled January training camp.”
The ‘developing situation’ referred to was, of course, the sudden killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Suleimani by the US the day before the statement was released. Although there aren’t any specific threats to US citizens in Qatar, apparently, neither was there an outcry from the international squad at the prospect of not landing into Qatar to train this week.
Qatar is, of course, the location of the World Cup in two years’ time. I’m quite sure that the galactic-level mess about to rain down on us after the killing of Suleimani will be completely resolved and sorted out by the time that tournament kicks off. No doubt at all about it.
Lippman sheds light on Baltimore oasis
Picked up a thriller by Laura Lippman over the holidays — After I’m Gone, about a disappearance in Baltimore, Maryland.
Very good, with a throwaway description of a Scottish character catching my eye: “And he came with a cohort of rich friends, surgeons and entrepreneurs, weekend rugby players who had found that broadcast rugby, hurling and World Cup matches.”
Having rolled through Baltimore on the train once, I was unaware there was such an oasis in the city. Her husband David Simon (The Wire, etc) caught a good one here.