First and foremost, I have to disclaim that this is my own personal writing, as an NBA fan, a disappointed Rockets fan, and a legal student, this letter is my feelings, my view, and my own personal call to the travesty of 12/8/11. If you agree, feel free to comment, if not, feel free to critique, that is your right. I hope this catches the eye of the NBA front office, I doubt it will, but no matter what, if anyone wishes to contact me, as the author, I’m at email@example.com or Twitter @VismundGarret
Dear David Stern d/b/a The NBA,
On December 8th, 2011 the Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets completed several hours of work, negotiations, and dealing done in accordance with league guidelines, consultation, and assurances. The culmination of that deal would have sent Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets, Chris Paul to the Lakers, and Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and a 1st and 2nd round pick to the New Orleans Hornets. Dell Demps, a General Manager (GM) of an NBA franchise, as authorized by the NBA front office, was assured to be a competent agent of the New Orleans Hornets. What followed was perhaps one of the greatest travesties in modern NBA history and will create a ripple effect throughout your league, throughout multiple fan bases, and within the player’s union itself.
With the exercise of one veto you managed to embody the spirit of the NBA’s (recently) ended lockout but you also managed to expose the ultimate failing of the entire charade that had been put on for the last few months. A primary concern, as per reports, is that you wished to set a precedent that players should not be allowed to dictate where they wish to go via trade and that small market teams should not be leveraged by larger market teams. This belies a few simple facts, Mr. Stern.
First, you failed to exercise any control over your league when Carmelo Anthony exercised his wishes over the concerns of the Denver Nuggets. The NBA League Office must give a blessing to all trades and failed to veto that trade. The concerns at that time were no less realistic than they are now. Competitive balance, leveraging of larger markets over smaller markets, an entitled player wishing to call the shots, and teams being forced to capitulate. Instead, you were complicit in the cheapening of the league’s credibility as a league that wants success for its smaller markets.
Second, when the NBA League Office stood idly by as Lebron James and Chris Bosh exercised free agent goals in what can only be accurately be described as blatant collusion the NBA failed to investigate any of these issues whatsoever. There was no investigation; there was no action on the part of the league, only a rationalization of the power of free agency. The aftermath of this league inaction as competitive balance was being eviscerated in favor of star appeal was that two of the league’s smaller markets, the Cleveland Cavaliersand the Toronto Raptors, returned to a life mired in mediocrity.
Third, in vetoing the trade you effectively informed Dell Demps of his lame duck status as an NBA GM. When looking at the results of that trade New Orleans could effectively field a roster to be much more competitive in the wake of losing Chris Paul than it stands after the fate of David West is decided. I understand you want the Hornets to be marketable but canceling a trade that returned viable talent over a principle that you have shown no interest whatsoever in upholding previously seems counter-intuitive. Your average investor, though they would greatly enjoy having a marketable player, would certainly not purchase a team whose marketable player has made open and blatant statements of his intention to leave for New York City. Granted, New York City is a large market and relevance of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises is certainly great for business, buoying a failing New Orleans Hornets franchise will surely offset those gains. Further, if the NBA sincerely wishes for small markets to remain competitive, the contract durations of Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom would have been some form of assurance to the Hornets franchise that for the immediate future they had viable talent on the roster.
Fourth, if the intention of the Collective Bargaining Agreement was to restrict the power of the player over the organization, and an organization makes a good faith effort to deal players on their own team, would it not stand to make sense that there is harmony between these two goals? The Hornets pursued this harmony seeking to get some return on investment for Chris Paul as opposed to losing out on his value entirely. In vetoing the trade of December 8th, 2011 you effectively broadcast to the league that Chris Paul is not to be traded and is to be allowed to make his decision to leave as a free agent. Any attempt to deal Paul at a later date will clearly be communicated as an act of preferential treatment to whichever team acquires his services because of your actions today. If the Collective Bargaining’s intention was to reign in abuse of marquee players against their franchises then the agreement should have spoken clearly to addressing these issues. If the Hornets are not going to be allowed the autonomy to operate their own franchise then the Collective Bargaining Agreement should have specified that as well. If the District of Columbia can run on its own with oversight from the federal government the NBA should be able to allow the New Orleans Hornets the same autonomy and oversight. Any trade that goes through the League Office at this point of a maximum value player, or widely marketed “superstar” must stand, logically and equally, to be vetoed by the league office. Your unilateral actions today, and regardless of any internal coercion your action was unilateral, sets a precedent not of a league that has a say as franchises, but as a league that is run at the will, behest, and wish of its commissioner.
Fifth, Commissioner, your actions disavowing the ability of an NBA franchise to deal their players in good faith stands in opposition to the spirit of the Collective Bargaining Agreement you claim to uphold. The lockout occurred, in part because of the actions of Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, that you took no part in mitigating or investigating. When a franchise freely participates in a fair trade, perhaps even a windfall trade, there is no unfair leverage of position. The fact that you are now insisting that players who may feel animosity towards their teams report to training camp is a heavy-handed attempt at regaining control of a situation that, frankly, you are responsible for. Certainly these players carry quite a bit of professionalism but their lives were about to face major upheaval in the national spotlight until your actions occurred. Unfortunately now, players hang in the balance, no trade can be finalized until the decision of whether or not a trade should be allowed goes through an arbitrary evaluation one at your behest. One must ask how reasonably can a business operate under the filtration of one man’s appraisal of what is fair? Should all teams now be able to vote and veto an action? If “basketball related issues” is a valid ground for the league to disavow a trade did not “basketball related issues” arise with the three aforementioned players? You leave a great deal of issues in limbo with your actions of December 8th, 2011. No player ever had home security but the precedent set forth now
Lastly, Mr. Stern, I do not write this letter as an enraged fan, as a zealot of a particular team, or as a pseudo-scholar of contractual principles. I write this letter as a fan of basketball, as someone who appreciates the game, and as someone who cares about the rights of the players and the rights of the franchises to make money and have some authority over their employees. Your actions tonight should be followed by a prompt resignation. The lockout clearly failed to adequately address any of the legitimate labor issues that linger between the management of the league and the players. The abject greed that catalyzed a season before legitimate concerns could be addressed came to a head on December 8th, 2011. The impotency of the NBA League Office’s authority came to a head on that same day. The specter of a league facing accusations of referee scandals, preferential treatment, and favoritism came to a head on December 8th, 2011. Mr. Stern, as a basketball fan, as a man who values fairness, as a man who seeks competitive balance in this league, as a man who values the idea of parity in opportunity, autonomy in business, and competency in basketball, we implore you to step down from your post as Commissioner of the NBA, for the betterment of the league, for the viability of the New Orleans Hornets, for the improvement of the Houston Rockets, and for the long term longevity of the sport of professional basketball.