Dishing With D'Antoni
Mike D'Antoni, the mind behind the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns of the mid-2000s, sits down with
former employee Amin Elhassan to talk about Phoenix's golden years and playing in Italy. THTV
Unless you started covering it from the beginning, which removes your frame of reference, spend enough time around the NBA and you'll learn the real meaning of "opulence." It's everywhere. From the cars the players drive, to their jewelry, to the locker rooms where they spend a grand total of about four hours every night. It's in the banquet halls and the hotels reserved and the equipment used. It's in the gift bags for friends and media, the free food, the superstar (or Lenny Kravitz) performances, the pyrotechnics, everywhere. It's astounding. Everyone stays at the nicest clubs, eats at the nicest restaurants, travels in the nicest cars and buses.
It's in even the tiniest things. At the NBA Finals, along with All-Star Weekend, the NBA gives away gift bags for the media. A little thank you to say "We appreciate you bringing attention to our business, even though half the time you're jumping on our mistakes like cobras on an injured mouse." This year it was a simple wireless mouse and a mousepad that has the Finals logo on it. A schlocky little thing that was still pretty nice when you think about it being free. I kept it mostly because I wanted to give it to my newborn son when he is older to say "Your father got this at the first Finals he covered."
Tomorrow I'm taking it to the nearest charitable donations joint and dropping it off. Because now it's just a reminder of how opulence wasted has cost 114 people their jobs when it shouldn't have tonight. It's nothing but a guilty reminder of how the mismanagement of resources and revenue can wind up costing real people their jobs, jobs they need.
The people that were laid off this week by the NBA, the 114? They're out of a job, now. They didn't have to be, but here they are. Maybe they deserved to be. Maybe their positions were utterly useless. If that's the case, why not just reassign them? Have them work on creating efficiency plans or, I don't know, creative ways to end the lockout. Maybe they were just lazy. Maybe 11 percent of the NBA's total workforce really was just lazy and redundant. But doesn't that reflect the people at the top and their organizational structure more than it does the people who were actually affected by this?
The NBA has a right to run its business towards profit and to act in its own self-interest. But to trot out their opulence time and time agian, to splurge on so many little things that when you add them up it looks like one of those trash mountains from "Wall-E," it's not only off-putting, it's downright nauseating.
There seem to be a number of NBA teams in play at the moment, despite the fact that it's a bad economy, and the Bobcats sold at a number that didn't wow a lot of people. Is this a sign that owning an NBA team isn't a surefire good investment, or is it different now than it used to be?
You know, I guess I would say that we'll have to wait and see. Clearly the Bobcats reflected a series of decisions that had been made over the years that resulted in there not being a good TV deal out of the box, there not being a naming rights out of the box, and there not having a pricing structure that was encouraging of the community, taken together with the basketball decisions. They were operating out of a relatively deep hole, and in some ways, I think there should be some relationship between performance and value, and I think that's what happened in Charlotte.
That said, I'm pleased to report that our competitive colleague, Mr. Jordan, is working that market as only he can, and I expect the financial performance of Charlotte to improve along with his basketball performance, which finds them in the playoffs this year; and there will be a huge turnaround financially in that franchise.
The others, I think we just have to wait. It's true that Washington, as you said, is in play. There are negotiations going on and we expect that to trade at a very robust enterprise value. It's likely and that's because of an estate, a sale by the estate.
Detroit will be under scrutiny for a sale, I think, because of the settlement of the estate. It's been announced that Golden State is for sale, and there are always ongoing issues for other teams, as well. I've read that I've more than read; I've read, but I've also been intentionally involved, that New Orleans is having some discussions. And that was well reported on to the owners, and I think that the valuations will be solid.
And then you can draw your own conclusions about where that sits, but it's going to take a few months for all of this to settle out. I'm optimistic.
You've told us that this is a difficult time; you said those words today, and at the All Star Game, you told us that the league was expecting to lose money.
We will still lose money. There's no question about that. Nothing's changed. The fact that we lost 300 some odd million dollars last year and we are down in revenue this year, will, as Adam Silver reported to the board, continue to reflect that we'll lose money.
But I think there are, you know, buying opportunities in our franchises, and what we heard was the capital markets are loosening up. We'll be renewing certain aspects of our league credit facility. Credit is getting looser. And there is a generally more optimistic view of the world by high net worth individuals, which defines a group that would consider buying NBA franchises.
I don't think we are going off the charts any time soon on the high end, but I think we'll see some solid pricing. But, you know, when you consider some of the losses that go with it, that, of course, has to be a drag of types on franchise values. But despite that, I think we'll see solid pricing in those franchise transactions that are coming.
Matt McHale of By the Horns: "The ruling is a rather predictable cop out, considering that the league hates to admit when officials make huge, game-changing mistakes, especially in high-profile playoff games. David Stern would sooner confess to being the Batman than acknowledge that his referees sometimes err, or that those errors might actually swing the results of important games ... Look, I'm not calling for a fine, or a suspension, or for a redo of the final two seconds of Game 5, or even an admission that, had the correct call been made, the game might have ended differently. I just want consistency. I simply want a league that has spent the last few years trying to outlaw blows to the head that can injure or endanger its players to stand by their supposed mission statement and say, 'Oops, we goofed. Won't let it happen again.' That's it. Is that really too much to ask? According to Stu Jackson: Yes. However, you can probably expect closer officiating scrutiny in Game 6. Game 5 was edging close to 'let 'em play' status. I doubt you'll see that tonight."
Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: "After [Joe] Johnson's 1-6 start from the field to open Game 5, his eFG% was down to 37.5% for the series. From that point forward, Johnson made five of nine shots (one three-pointer included) and went to the line 15 times. He'd attempted 17 free throws through four games of this series. Johnson didn't go to the line 15 times in a game all season. Or last season. Or the season before that. Or ever in his NBA career. So maybe we should hold off on declaring Joe Johnson back until he makes at least half of his shots in a game rather than scoring his points in a thoroughly atypical and likely unrepeatable fashion."
Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "We have seen Denver play pressure defense from time to time during the regular season, but never for entire games and never for multiple games in a row. This team has come alive in the playoffs and they are playing defense that I feel confident saying has never been seen in Denver. Maybe someone from the ABA days can correct me, but the exceptional teams of the mid 1980's never locked down like this team has ... So there you have it Nuggets fans. Denver dominated this series and won easier than even the most optimistic fan thought possible. The Nuggets averaged 24.2 more points per game that the Hornets and I believe have proven themselves a team to be taken seriously for as long as they remain active in the playoffs."
THE FINAL WORD
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(Photos by Elsa, Scott Cunningham, Doug Pensinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
Somebody should make a timeline of every time the NBA has ever made some kind of blanket denial, unsupported by evidence, and then follow-up to see how it turned out.
The point would be, of course, that the NBA is asking us to trust blanket denials right now -- David Stern calls Donaghy's latest claims "baseless" and the desperate acts of a convicted felon -- in the face of some of the most serious charges imaginable, from a former referee.
I am open-minded to all sides of this debate at this point. These are dueling assertions, with precious little evidence. Certainly, you wouldn't want to believe Tim Donaghy without some supporting evidence.
The same goes, I'm afraid, based on recent history, for the NBA.My mind turns to Justin Wolfers.
"On a personal level, having been on the receiving end of a blanket denial from the NBA," expalins Wolfers, "I know as a fact that it was not well thought through. Clearly, this business, like every business, is run by PR."
That paper prompted the NBA to say all kinds of things about Wolfers' work, including calling is sloppy and ludicrous. From an Associated Press article of May 2007:
Speaking before Friday's Game 6 of a playoff series between Toronto and New Jersey, Stern said of the report: "My major concern about it is that it's wrong."
"This is a bum rap, that's all," Stern said. "This is a bum rap, and if it is going to be laid on us it should be laid on us by basis of some people who are purported to be scholars in a publication that purports to hold us up to a higher standard -- a little bit more should have been done."
And, of course, there was a blanket denial, that was backed with grand claims that the NBA had better information proving Wolfers wrong.
Much like during this referee scandal, the NBA conducted an internal investigation, and then pronounced the matter settled in their favor without taking the step of letting the public see what the people in the league office know.
The only problem was that the NBA was evidently not working with the best facts available, and in the final analysis was almost certainly wrong all along. That notion is supported by countless economists who have vouched for Wolfers' work, and even, apparently, the NBA's own secretive internal study, which was eventually handed over to Wolfers and media outlets.
Wolfers has given academic talks about how, upon further review, the evidence supports his initial assertions, despite the NBA's protestations. He plans to publish those findings at some point.
ESPN's Lester Munson did an excellent job, at the time, detailing the situation.
Why did the NBA suddenly give Wolfers its study?"I believe they were tired of the criticism that they had not given it to us," he said. "And I don't think they really knew what their study said."
An independent analysis of the two conflicting studies requested by ESPN.com confirms Wolfers' findings that referees favor their own race when they blow their whistles. Thomas Miles, who has a Ph. D. in economics from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of Harvard Law School, dissected the massive study completed by Wolfers, and compared it with the smaller study by an NBA consultant.
"I believe [Wolfers] has the better points," said Miles, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. "His study focused on the interactions of the race of the referee and the race of the player. The NBA was more concerned with the number of fouls called on black players and comparisons with the number of fouls called on white players."
Wolfers says that by rushing to discredit its critics, the league may have had some short-term public relations victories, at the expense of long-term credibility.
"Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said sunlight is the best disinfectant." says Wolfers. "The NBA is in a crisis of confidence here, and I think sunlight is very important for future credibility of the league.
"At the time of the referee race study, other economists looked at my original study, and then the NBA's study, and said that the future credibility of the League would be shot if the League didn't acknowledge that they had erred in their initial statements.
"Now the allegations the League is facing are much more serious. But they do have data on every referee. They have in internal database that they use to grade performances on each game. It would be valuable to know if the game in question had been questionable by the NBA's own metrics. I'm thinking that a data snoop, people like myself, could be very helpful in going through the information to see if there is anything to be found.
"When I taught business ethics at Stanford, we talked about how businesses all record everything. They keep paper trails of almost everything they do. And there is always a student or two who questions that. Why not shred everything? Delete the files! The reason is because a clean paper trail is a complement to an ethical business strategy. If you're doing the right thing, then you want the longest paper trail you can possibly get."
In the L.A. Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remembers 1968, when he was very sympathetic to calls for some black American athletes to boycott the Olympics in Mexico City.
Then Abdul-Jabbar wonders about Beijing 2008:
Here we are 40 years later and we are once again about to send our young athletes overseas to compete in games while we send our young soldiers overseas to fight in war. And, as before, there is a social agenda attached to the Olympic Games.
Should we boycott the Olympic Games to protest China's arrogant human rights performance, its political imperialism, its shoddy exports that recently have left some Americans ill or dead?
The answer is no.
While it may seem disingenuous to be playing games with countries that aim weapons at us, the same claim can be made about us by many other countries. I am of a mind that the actions of Smith and Carlos made a difference in 1968.
However, this Olympics is an entirely different situation that requires different tactics to achieve a satisfactory resolution. Instead of turning our backs, we need to continue a dialogue with the Chinese. The more we talk with each other, the more we understand each other and can reach compromises that will benefit the lives of those we are trying to help. Jackie Robinson once said that the great thing about athletics is that "you learn to act democracy, not just talk it." That's what our athletes will demonstrate to the 1 billion Chinese who may be watching.
Also, in a wide-ranging interview, Commissioner David Stern tells Brian Berger of Sports Business Radio that he is not opposed to using the Olympics as a platform to discuss policies.
"People should be encouraged," he says, "to speak out" in broad discussions, protest, or other forums. He says not sure such dissent "should ever be violent." He also notes that witholding athletes has been shown, in his view, to only hurt the athletes.
Attorneys for the City of Seattle, as part of their legal tussle with Sonic owners over the KeyArena lease, have discovered some shocking emails.
I implore you to read this entire email exchange between Sonics Chairman Clay Bennett and NBA Commissioner David Stern, in which Bennett swears that he and his co-owners always intended to keep the team in Seattle. Their conversation comes in August 2007, in the wake of the mini-scandal when one of Bennett's co-owners, Aubrey McClendon, was quoted last summer saying that the owners always intended to move the team to Oklahoma City:
I am concerned that you may feel I have betrayed your trust. David you know how I feel about our relationship both personally and professionally. You are among a very few, notwithstanding our relative brief actual physical time together that have significantly affected my life. I view you as a role model as an extraordinarily gifted executive, a deep and compassionate thinker, and a person with a rare and unique charisma that brings out the best in everyone you touch. You are just one of my favorite people on earth and I so cherish our relationship Sonics business aside. I would never breach your trust. As absolutely remarkable as it may seem, Aubrey and I have NEVER discussed moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City, nor have I discussed it with ANY other member of our ownership group. I have been passionately committed to our process in Seattle ...
Now, let that soliloquy ring in your head as I tell you that Clay Bennett's emails are also littered with what could best be described as "smoking gun" type evidence that the Sonic owners, despite a contractual obligation to make a good faith effort to stay, always intended to leave Seattle.
For instance, in the Seattle Times, Brunner writes about many examples that precede Bennett's pledge to Stern:
Unless someone comes forward to prove these emails are not what they appear to be, I'd say that's game, set, match, for anyone who wants to prove that Clay Bennett has acted like a weasel.
It's also convincing in terms of documenting that the team's efforts to stay have not been in good faith.
But ... does any of this influence David Stern's support for Clay Bennett's ownership group? Does it affect the upcoming vote on relocating the team? Does this inspire a meaningful new level of public outcry? What new legal challenges might this present to relocation?
In short, does this do anything to help Sonic fans keep their team? We'll see.
(Via Enjoy the Enjoyment)
The commissioner recently got snooty with a reporter for the 2,198th time in his tenure. The conversation was, in essence, the reporter wondering if the league might allow some time off to players like Dwyane Wade this pre-season. Wade, the reporter pointed out, will have just traveled a long way to and from the Olympics, and then would be asked to travel a long way to a pre-season game overseas.
Click that link and listen. Commissioner Stern got on the highest horse in the barn and acted 1,800 kinds of annoyed at the reporter for spreading misinformation about how far away Europe was and being "so American."
"You mean flying from Miami to Paris instead of flying from Miami to Portland? ... It's actually closer. That's something that, since 1990, I have been trying to overcome. I think I succeeded in doing it in the league. Now I have to do it in the media."
Flying over water, he said, did not make it any further than flying over land. That point, in the eyes of some, won the moment.
Look, I love Europe. I have been there many times and have family there. I hope to take my kids there this summer. The commissioner doesn't need to sell me on Europe. I'm glad teams are going there.
But Mr. Commissioner, if you must be haughty in selling the locale of your latest business venture, please at least be accurate.
Point #1: In the pre-season, most teams keep their travel pretty regional. If the Heat weren't playing in Europe, they would not likely be playing in Portland. If past years are any guide, they would be playing in places like Orlando and Charlotte, which are a lot closer than Paris.
Point #2: Closer? From Miami to Paris is 4,579 miles. From Miami to Portland is 2,704 miles. That's an 1,875 mile difference -- which is about the distance from where Stern works in New York to some beach in the Caribbean, where Stern apparently was in his mind as he spoke.