David Stern on Ovechkin, Gilbert's Blog and Bandwagons
Before this afternoon's Abe Pollin lunch, David Stern spent about 45 minutes talking to various local media outlets about things like the economy and the Wizards' descent into the wilderness of despair. Cheerful stuff, in other words.
I tried to ask him about the debate between Ovechkin the showman and the NHL old-timers who prefer celebrations be bottled up and presented to the world as a plain unsalted biscuit with tonic water, and how the NBA has handled that individuality issue. Stern wound up his answer by talking about Twitter. I'm not sure whether he knew that Ovie used to Tweet, or that I sometimes Tweet myself, or if that was all just a coincidence, but here's what he said.
"You know, I'm an old school guy," Stern began, "but I recognize that the new-school players are quite popular. I've heard coaches describe it. Remember, I live in New York, and Nate Robinson is a VERY exuberant player, and that's kind of nice too. Although I go back to an era when if you dunked on somebody you pretended as if, 'Oh, that's just a normal day at the office.' You just pick up go down and indicate to the guy that you could do it any time you wanted to. And so that's what Bill Russell used to epitomize, that's what Larry and Magic used to do, even with Dr. J and Kareem, you just did it.
"But that's changed, and you know what? That's because everything has changed. If you Tweet, you're telling the world about everything. If you're on social media, you're telling the world about everything. So I consider the exuberance to be a reflection of the way people are growing up and the way they're expressing themselves."
Does Stern himself Tweet? "I HAVE Tweeted, for about a day at All-Star," he told us. "I'm under enormous pressure back home, back at the office to resume my Tweeting. I'm wrestling with it."
Anyhow, in my job, I get asked virtually every week about which local athletes are best for blogging purposes. I virtually always say something along the lines of this: "It varies team-by-team and player-by-player, and winners are always better for blogs than losers, but in general, I've found NBA players are the most willing to joke and position themselves as entertainers, and not just as athletes." Except with more "dudes" and "you knows." But I asked Stern why that would be.
"The reason for it is that on the court, we are competitors, and our guys will do just about anything for a W," he said. "But as you get around it and away from it a little bit, we also realize, and we get reminded that there are real serious things happening out in the world and sports is designed to take your mind off those things, not to intensify your feelings....
"And it's perfectly ok to have some fun. And I encourage it. It doesn't come down from me, but it's fine. I mean, it used to be sort of theological: you can't talk or be friends with your opponents. What is that about? You vacation with him, you walk the picket lines with him, you go to union meetings with him, you're in this together, and then he starts to be the enemy? He's not the enemy, they're a competitor. And it's very much consistent with our league that you can be friendly with somebody. Nevertheless, like to win the game by 25 points and have your way with them. Those are not inconsistent notions."
Thank you for that. Now, about Gilbert's blog?
"I think he's out there," Stern said. "That's good, that's great, it's fun. First, when I read it originally, I'd go AIIIIIGH. But then I said, 'Hey, ok.' You know, it's the same way that I never understood why our network partners wanted sound bites of the coaches in the locker room or going to the huddle.
"But you know, I've had basketball people say to me, 'I learned something about that last play, about how to coach, about how to motivate.' And so that's what fans are looking for. There's a changing environment, they're looking for exuberance, expression, ACCESS. And that's what we have now, so that's blogging, that's mics in the huddle, that's mics in the locker room. If you don't change with the mores, you get trampled by them."
Stern cautioned us several times that he's a business guy, not a basketball guy, deferring when he was asked whether Gilbert should come back this season. I think he pretty much proved that point when he argued that the Wiz have "found a lot of strength and I think a lot of unanticipated opportunity" in this lost season. If "strength" means "young players who are capable of losing close games in agonizing fashion and getting yelled at by their vets," I guess he's dead-on, but this hasn't been a season of strength in my eyes. "These things have a way of reversing themselves," he said cheerily. "That's what the draft, that's what trades, that's what free agency and that's what recuperation are all about."
Anyhow, I also asked him whether the palpable loss of interest in the Wiz this year was a D.C. phenomenon, or whether it would happen elsewhere.
"Absolutely every city," he said. "You can look around. You can see the crowds. There's less buzz when there's a little bit lower turnout, and when the team's fortunes are not very good, and you can trace it, in most cases, to the win/loss record. In case no one noticed, fans LOVE winners, and when their team loses the support is a little bit less robust."
Mike Wise also asked Stern, among other things, about building a basketball court at the White House. The Commish said the ceilings were too low. He said he hasn't met Barack Obama, but that he looks forward to it.
"He's a great man, he's a great man, and he's going to be a great leader," Stern said. "What he's got on his plate, with everything: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Middle East, health care, stem cell research, the financial crisis. It's extraordinary, and also he's affecting change of how we relate to the rest of the world. And I think that's a place where the NBA can just be a loyal supporter, because we're out there."
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