Outside the Lines:
NBA Rage


Here's the transcript from Show 150 of weekly Outside The Lines - NBA Rage

SUN., FEB. 9, 2003
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Tom Farrey, ESPN.com.
Guest: NBA commissioner David Stern.

ANNOUNCER- Outside The Lines, February 9, 2003.

BOB LEY, HOST- There is a new generation of stars, a new order of power, and a brand new marketing icon.



LEY- But amid the glitter, there's a new and disturbing quality to the anger in the NBA.

MICHAEL JORDAN, WASHINGTON WIZARDS GUARD/FOWARD- Spoiled brats, you know, arguing with guys who want to be macho.

TONY MASSENBURG, UTAH JAZZ FORWARD/CENTER- A lot of times that can boil over into something ugly.

PAT RILEY, PRESIDENT AND HEAD COACH FOR MIAMI HEAT- I thought it was a joke in how that game was handled.

JORDAN- Right now, it's totally out of control.

LEY- Also, the league's new relationship with the gaming industry. The NBA selling one of its women's teams to a casino.

TOM MCMILLEN, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 1987-1993- It is a dangerous precedent. It's a slippery slope.

LEY- Today on OUTSIDE THE LINES, the issues facing the NBA and an All-Star weekend conversation with commissioner David Stern.

It is, of course, All-Star weekend in the NBA. It was the National Basketball Association that pioneered the transformation of a single game into a three-day celebration of its sport and its stars. No sport has more effectively sold itself around the globe to the point the NBA's most recognizable player of this moment is a young man from Shanghai. In the final year of Michael Jordan's career, there is precious little hand-wringing about how this sport is going to survive once Jordan has gone. But there are issues on the table, and we will be discussing them this morning with our live guest, Commissioner David Stern, beginning with an issue that Michael Jordan yesterday called totally out of control, the rage that can erupt in this skillful and physical game.

TOM TOLBERT, ESPN/ABC BASKETBALL ANALYST - Let's be honest. We have big boys out there. They're bumping into each other.

MIAMI HEAT ANNOUNCER- Butler hammered out of bounds by Artest.

TOLBERT - They're highly competitive. They're highly motivated. And these guys want to win. Sometimes it's going to go over the edge, and may have a confrontation or two.

LEY- Sometimes the best basketball players in the world, men who routinely defy the laws of gravity and physics, do go over the edge. The NBA has effectively cracked down on incidents and moments such as these. Fighting is clearly down. But this season has seen a different quality to the NBA rage.

PAT CROCE, FORMER PHILADELPHIA 76ERS OWNER- I don't think there's more confrontations this season. I just think there are more outrageous confrontations this season. You've got Jerry Sloan pushing a ref. You have Rasheed Wallace threatening a ref. We've got Chris Mills calling out an entire busload of Portland Trail Blazers. These are outrageous.

LEY- Ron Artest throwing a television monitor, damaging a camera, and suspended three games. And later, another four games for confronting Pat Riley and taunting a crowd with obscene gestures. Rasheed Wallace, based on prior conduct, suspended seven games for threatening a referee outside the arena. Chris Mills, after a game, locking the Portland team bus and causing mayhem by threatening players, suspended three games. Coaches Jerry Sloan and Isiah Thomas suspended for their on-court actions. What is going on here?

MASSENBURG- We're all human beings, and we're emotional. When you're in the heat of battle, a lot of times, especially with players and coaches, it's easy to go over the top. So sometimes it can make for a volatile mix when you've got a high-intensity game, when you've got person who is a fiery type of a personality, a lot of times that can boil over into something ugly.

JORDAN- It's bad right now. What the league has tried to do is try to penalize each and every act. But when you talk about fining millionaires a certain amount of money, sometimes that's not always the best-case scenario.

SAM SMITH, CHICAGO TRIBUNE AND ESPN.COM WRITER- What I actually think is it needs to be more severe. I think if you attack a referee in any way, in a physical way, two months, three months, half a season. I mean, that's the only way to stop all of these things.

CROCE- Ron Artest should have been eliminated for at least seven games, or maybe amputate his finger. Either/or. But no, I don't think the fines are severe enough. Isiah Thomas, here's a coach who went on to the court, wrong. Jerry Sloan to the ref, wrong. These are leaders. These are CEOs of the team. They should be penalized more because they're role models for the league.

LEY- Jerry Sloan's discipline was too harsh in the eyes of Hubie Brown. The Memphis coach points to what some call a confrontational attitude among some game officials.

HUBIE BROWN, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES HEAD COACH- We're always making the player and the coaches accountable for everything. But wait a second, why didn't a guy call a technical? Why didn't a guy eject you and then walk the other way, which they are supposed to do? OK. So don't tell me about you coming like a macho man in a player's face or in a coach's face, OK? Because you're wrong.

LEY- Pat Riley, already fined $50,000 this year for criticizing game officials, cited what he said was their lack of professionalism in Wednesday's game against Portland.

RILEY- I thought I was at the comedy store watching some kind of, you know, comedian out there laughing with the Blazers and talking to them and smiling with them.

LEY- The Miami Herald reported that referee Derek Stafford was heard telling Riley, "go on TV and cry." The conduct of both Riley and Stafford is under review by a league balancing both the skill and the fury in its game.

RILEY- I thought it was a joke in how that game was handled.

JOHN SALLEY, PLAYED 12 SEASONS IN NBA- You should be able to talk to the refs. You should be able to have that conversation. Rasheed wears a 'C' on his chest, to them they think it's "convict" because they have a captain and they shouldn't treat them that way.

MICHAEL WILBON, CO-HOST, PARDON THE INTERRUPTION- One thing we're seeing is a generation gap, not just between player and player, but between older players and younger officials, and between younger players and older officials and guys not knowing how to communicate to each other. Talked to Michael Jordan about this issue just recently, and he talked about the players being unable to connect with officials.

JORDAN- The fans don't pay to see the referees, so they're going to have to bring their ego down, players are going to have to bring their egos down, and coaches are certainly going to have to do the same. That's the only way to solve the issue. Right now, it's totally out of control.

LEY- And we are joined live this morning from the All-Star city of Atlanta by the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, David Stern. Good morning, David.


LEY- What do you make of what some have characterized as a more outrageous quality to some of the rage that has been display this had year? I know you addressed it last night.

STERN- I am at something of a disadvantage because I didn't see the return feed of that very long feature, so I didn't know who was saying what. Although I never thought I would be living long enough to listen to Hubie Brown lecturing on court etiquette, which is kind of interesting. Pat Riley's having a bad year, and I think it's gotten the better part of his temper.

But by and large, that part of your tape that said that incidents are actually down was accurate, and our response to those is up, which is accurate. And I don't want to defend any particular behavior, but you were a bit dramatic. Chris Mills didn't perform mayhem. He was quickly whisked away and dealt with relatively severely.

But we've made the point that large men in small places leads to sometimes increased tempers, and we've got to stop it. We've got to make sure that it is not allowed, and to the point that Michael made, we have to make sure that our referees know exactly when to walk away. Although we've put the refs in a very difficult situation. A few years back, the coaches complained rather vociferously that our referees were walking away, and that was arrogant, so would we please make them kinder and gentler and have them talk back to the coaches, which we then changed and did. And now the coaches say they should walk away.

So we'll go back and retool and let me use your air to say that the referees are going to be not involved in confrontations. The players are going to be dealt with harshly, and the coaches are going to be models of decorum in the second half of the season because that's the way it has to be.

LEY- Alright, a prediction from the top. Let's move to some news you made last night with expanding the first rounds of the playoffs from best of five to best of seven. What is accomplished here?

STERN- Well, actually, we had agreed a year ago in our new television deals that the players would be extended if the players gave approval. We felt that given the competitiveness of the league and, really, the closing of the gap between one and eight, that teams one and eight in the playoffs, that our old concerns about four games and you're out were not valid anymore, and that a seven game, or potential seven-game series would be more exciting to our fans, and we did it. The players gave their approval.

LEY- They did, and I'm going to pick up on some other things you have to talk about with the union. And Sports Illustrated commissioned a scientific poll. Among their findings among NBA fans, that 40 percent of fans in their survey over the last five years say their interest has diminished in the NBA.

STERN- By the way, you just used a word. Go back and look, that was junk science by Sports Illustrated.

LEY- How so?

STERN- That was not a scientific poll. And the poll we would prefer to use is one done by your own company, Chilton, which makes the NBA the most popular sport amongst kids and growing more so every day. We looked at the Sports Illustrated sample, it's an old S.I. technique. As the All-Star game starts to come up, commissioner polls say it's 1,000 people, but then use 3,000 in some part of it, and then go ahead and do it. We reject it completely. It's exactly contrary to what's going on with the NBA. On web site hits, on ratings on ESPN, where we're up almost 50 percent over your previous time slots. On TNT, we're holding our audience. On ABC, we're up. And we're in the worst economy in America in the last 30 years, we've maintained our attendance from a year ago. Actually, things couldn't be better. S.I. notwithstanding.

LEY- You mentioned the kids. One of the things you would have to negotiate with the players' union, and I know you're of a mind to do it, is raising the age of entry into the league. It's currently 18, and you made an exception, European players are slightly lower, and not to get bogged down on those details, but it's basically at 18 still. What are the chances of you negotiating raising the bar of the age with the union?

STERN- Well, we've put it on the table, and it's going to be part of the negotiations. We think that a 20-year-old entry is a good thing for the NBA, for colleges, and for society in general. We understand that it might not be the best thing for a particular athlete who has the skills. But, you know, there are lots of kids who can drive at a young age, but we don't give them a license until a certain age, and we'd like to negotiate a limit, but it isn't something that is the end of the world either way. We can live with our current rules if that's what we decide to do.

LEY- To what extent has the great social debate we've seen in the last six weeks or so over LeBron James made your point for you?

STERN- Well, I think it makes a different point. It isn't so much whether or not he's ready to play in the NBA. The point that it makes is the sleazy point that you've got the situation of a high school that's taking its games, putting them into a 6,000-seat college arena, putting it on pay-per-view, traveling the kids around, you know, playing, picked up in limos, taken to hotels, and playing in 12,000-seat venues, and this is high school basketball? Shame on them. And then they expect these kids to focus on whether taking a $300 jersey costs them the rest of their eligibility? I think if that doesn't make the adults around the nation say, "Let's do something about this in terms of regulating so-called amateur sport," I don't know what will.

LEY- Let's talk about another rookie, Yao Ming. As a player, it looks like Shaq may have a bit of a foil. What does he mean to the league on the court and also in the boardrooms?

STERN- I think that, you know, China remains a mystery to many Americans, and here's a young man who comes out of China, is helping us to learn more about this fascinating country, and he happens to be 7-feet 6 and can block shots, run the court, and score. So all of that is very interesting at a time when China is coming into the World Trade Organization and preparing for the Beijing Olympics. So it's an interesting time for us. But it's also interesting with the other 60-some-odd international players from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. So we're very excited about our prospects, and I think Yao Ming is a perfect example.

LEY- Well, Commissioner, we're going to take a break for just a second and step aside. When we continue, we'll consider the NBA's new relationship with the gaming industry, including a WNBA team now being owned and being played their games at a gambling casino.

MCMILLEN- In 1991, the commissioners came to Washington, and said absolutely not, there's a fine line here, it will not be crossed. Well, here we are in 2003, that's not necessarily the case throughout professional sports.

LEY- I'll continue with David Stern in just a moment, and we'll be discussing what has historically been kept at arm's length by professional sports, gambling. To put in perspective the concerns of leagues on this issue, simply consider the 14-year saga of Pete Rose. Ironically, the time that Rose has been banned essentially for betting on baseball, casino gaming has exploded throughout America. Now as Tom Farrey reports, it is part and parcel of professional basketball.

VAL ACKERMAN, WNBA COMMISSIONER- I can tell you, this is a great day for the WNBA.

TOM FARREY, ESPN CORRESPONDENT - In late January, the NBA approved the sale of the WNBA's Orlando Miracle to a Native American tribe for a reported $10 million. But more significant is where the team will be playing this spring. At a casino on the tribe's isolated reservation in southeast Connecticut. The move represented the rejection of a long-held taboo in sports, that players and players shall not mix.

ACKERMAN- Well, in this particular case, we have really no real concerns. We have very, very clear rules on the separation of promotions relative to a gaming operation versus the basketball side of the business. So there will be no co-marketing, if you will, of the two.

FARREY - And yet, the team is essentially named after the casinos. In newspaper, television, and other media, the Connecticut Sun will help introduce the Mohegan Sun to adults and children who had never heard of this place.

McMILLEN- It is a dangerous precedent. It's a slippery slope.

FARREY - Tom McMillen played 11 years in the NBA. It was during his tenure as a Maryland Congressman that David Stern and other league commissioners pleaded with lawmakers to stop the expansion of legalized sports betting.

MCMILLEN- In 1991, the commissioners came to Washington and said, absolutely not, there's a fine line here, it will not be crossed. Well, here we are in 2003, that's not necessarily the case throughout professional sports. This is all about money. Money rules.

FARREY- None of the marquee leagues has relaxed its stance on gambling in recent years more than the NBA, which now advertises on New Jersey lottery tickets, and even allows teams to play preseason games in Las Vegas, where nearly every casino has a sports bar, and gambling is everywhere.

TONY DELK, CELTICS GUARD- Just because you're there doesn't mean you have to do it. It's just like walking in a bar. I mean, you don't have to drink because you're in a bar.

JOE MALOOF, SACRAMENTO KINGS- I don't think it's a moral issue anymore.

FARREY- Joe Maloof is co-owner of both the Sacramento Kings and the Palms Casino, one of the hippest in Las Vegas. The NFL and major league baseball prohibit team owners from investing in casinos. But the NBA approved his family's purchase of the team in 1999 with one caveat...

MALOOF- We decided to take the NBA off our sports book, which David Stern really wanted that to happen, and that was one of the prerequisites to us owning a team was to make sure that was done.

FARREY- The Maloofs used the Kings and the Palms to market each other. The casino sells Kings merchandise and specifically caters to NBA players. Two dozen suites at the Palms Hotel have extra-long beds and extra-tall showerheads just for athletes.

MALOOF- A lot of them are over 6'5, 6'6, so we make sure that they're comfortable.

FARREY- The athletes down there are betting at your sports book?

MALOOF- Well, I don't know. They might be, as long as it's not on their own sport, it's fine, it's perfectly legal.

FARREY- Unlike the Palms, the Mohegan Sun has no sports book, but the WNBA team's new home has plenty of gaming tables.

MASSENBURG- You know, them playing a game in a casino should have no bearing on the players themselves and the game itself.

GREG OSTERTAG, JAZZ CENTER- As long as you're not betting on your sport, you know, what's the difference? you're not -- you're not hurting anybody, I don't think.

MCMILLEN- The fact is that, you know, a player can go out and gamble and can run up a $1 million - $2 million gambling debt and could be pressed to pay it, and there's, you know, there are all kinds of insidious, subtle pressures at play here.

FARREY- Is there any threat there that games are going to be thrown?

MALOOF- You know, I can't say that there's not a threat. I mean, you know, there's always a threat with anything in life. But for the most part, I think the athletes have so much at risk, long-term contracts, long-term guaranteed contracts, so why would an NBA player want to throw all that away for a bet?

MCMILLEN- It will be interesting to see where this all leads in 10 years from now. We look back, and do we see, you know, a much, much, much more -- much stronger alliance between gambling and sports? That's probably what's going to happen. And if that happens, all you need is one major incident and you really can, I think, do tremendous damage to the integrity of sports.

LEY- Former Congressman Tom McMillen referred to the commissioner's testimony, David Stern, with these remarks back in 1991 -- "Sports betting places athletes and games under a cloud of suspicion, as normal incidents of the game give rise to unfounded speculation of game fixing and point shaving." And the commissioner rejoins us live. Commissioner, why would the WNBA make this move with the NBA, of course, operating the league, why was this move permitted?

STERN- I think your piece misses the point completely, although, again, I did not see it, I just heard it. Our view is the same -- sports betting, particularly basketball betting, is prohibited. We had the Sheridan, ITT Sheridan years ago owned the Knicks, they owned Caesar's, but there was no prohibition against them owning the Knicks and Caesar's. They just had to remove the NBA from the sports book. We think the problem is sports betting, and we work with the other leagues to prohibit sports betting in any jurisdiction where it isn't currently legal, which pretty much means Las Vegas.

So in a country where 40 states have sports lotteries and state legislators long decided long ago to urge people to bet the grocery money to help education by taking a lottery ticket, gambling is the American way. Leagues allow their players to gamble. We just have a very strong rule about betting on basketball. And that rule remains.

LEY- I was going to say, WNBA has a very large, young fan base. These games are being played directly next to the casino.

STERN- You know what? Those same kids watch TV and watch all the lottery ads and watch the news programs that say, isn't it wonderful, the $300 million Powerball lottery is now, isn't that great, the American way. Those same kids have come into that arena to watch the Ice Capades, the circus, college basketball, pro basketball, that horse left the barn a long time ago, and Tom McMillen, an old friend of mine, couldn't be wronger. We've got issues in society, but it's not about -- I mean, I testified 40 years ago against lotteries, but, you know, the hunger of our elected officials have made America into a tax-focused country. And so the gambling is out of the bag. We are a nation of lottery players, slot machine players, etc. I won't start moralizing about that. My narrow area of protection is the NBA and basketball betting.

LEY- David Stern, it's always a pleasure to have you with us. We appreciate it this morning. I know it's a busy weekend. Thanks.

STERN- Thank you.

LEY- All right, Commissioner David Stern.

Next up, your thoughts on the LeBron James suspension. Scrutiny on the number one draft pick for the NBA.

LEY- LeBron James back on the court last night in Trenton, New Jersey, against Westchester High of L.A. This at the end of the first quarter, three of his career-high 52 points last night as he equaled the point total of the other team. James was reinstated this week by an Ohio judge, but must sit out one additional game before the playoffs began. Last week we looked at James' suspension and the questions it raised. That brought these thoughts to our e-mail inbox here at Outside the Lines.

From New Jersey, quote- "I am sick of people saying LeBron James has to surround himself with the right people. I am 17 and I don't need advisers to tell me amateur athletes cannot receive any gifts. He knows what he did was against the rules, he just thought the could get away with it."

And this from Hartford, Connecticut- "If ESPN can benefit from advertising during high school games that feature LeBron James being LeBron James and his high school can benefit as well, team appearances -- what's wrong with LeBron James benefiting from being LeBron James?"

Those thoughts are online and OTLWEEKLY is the keywordfor our library of program transcripts. We look forward to your thoughts on NBA rage and the NBA's gamble. Otlweekly@ESPN.com.

weekly OTL logo


Send feedback to the weekly OTL show

Mission statement of weekly Outside the Lines show

2003: Transcripts of weekly OTL show

2002: Transcripts, videos of weekly OTL show

2001: Transcripts, videos of weekly OTL show

2000: Transcripts, videos of weekly OTL show

Email story
Most sent
Print story

espn Page 2 index