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Gumbel's shot at Stern off the mark

I happened to be watching HBO's 'Real Sports' Tuesday night when host Bryant Gumbel delivered the 90-second rant on David Stern that shook the sports world.

What immediately came to mind was John McEnroe's famous line - 'You can't be serious.'

Gumbel is a savvy, intrepid broadcaster whom I admire, and 'Real Sports' is a terrific show.

But Gumbel bumbled through this one so badly, I almost can't believe it.

Highlights of his tirade on the long-time commissioner:

'If the NBA lockout is to be resolved any time soon, it seems likely to be done in spite of David Stern, not because. The NBA's infamously egocentric commissioner seems more hell-bent lately in demeaning his players than resolving his game's labor issues. ...

"Stern's version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It's part of Stern's M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he's the one keeping the hired hands in their place. ...

"Some will of course cringe at that characterization, but Stern's disdain for the players is as palpable and pathetic as his motives are transparent. Yes, the NBA's business model is broken. But to fix it, maybe the league's commissioner should concern himself most with the solution, and stop being part of the problem.'

First, Gumbel - who would seem to take himself very seriously - should be careful about labeling someone as egocentric. It's very much the pot calling the kettle black.

Second, such a venomous personal attack on Stern is both unwarranted and ill-advised - even without the racial overtones.

To create the imagery of Stern as a plantation overseer and NBA players as his slaves is not hyperbole - it's flat-out not true.

The average salary of an NBA player last season was more than $5 million, and the median is in the $3.5 million range.

A player is free to walk away from any contract - he won't get paid, of course, so few do. But a whip is not employed to keep him in his place.

Stern can certainly be condescending. And there have been moments in the collective-bargaining agreement negotiations, I'm sure, when he has offended the opposition. Vice versa, too, I'm betting.

The player dress code, by the way, was implemented in 2005 and required business attire while arriving and departing games. Players were leaving locker rooms dressed both sloppily and unprofessionally, and Stern was trying to add some decorum. Really, though, the edict was only loosely enforced and soon pretty much forgotten.

The 'questioning of officials'? Man, if you don't question the league's referees after what has occurred on and off the court in recent years, you're not paying attention. If anything, Stern has defended them unrealistically at times.

For 27 years, Stern has been an effective commissioner of the NBA. Yes, he works for the owners, but the feeling here is he wants the players to succeed, too. A former lawyer, Stern will represent his clients but do what he can to see that the other side gets served fairly.

That's really all you can ask of a commissioner. He deserves better than the clothesline shot he took from Gumbel on Tuesday night.