Players need to stick to their day jobs

BY Jason Whitlock • October 18, 2011

As it relates to Bryant Gumbel’s plantation overseer-David Stern analogy, let’s not waste time debating the appropriateness of any metaphor that hints at America’s history of slavery.

That wasn’t Gumbel’s point. Gumbel laced his critique of Stern with a loaded comparison so we would take notice of his larger point: The NBA’s commissioner is bullying the players unfairly and treating them in a condescending fashion during the lockout because there is a severe power imbalance.

In Gumbel’s view, the overwhelmingly black players are victims of Stern’s feeling of superiority and paternal instinct. He used the Stern-instituted dress code and strict guidelines on conduct toward referees as his supporting evidence.

Gumbel is pandering to a choir that loves hearing that black people are always the victim of racism, a power imbalance and America’s refusal to recognize Jay-Z’s birthday as a national holiday.

Look, racism and its negative impact on people of color in this country are real. I have a long history of writing about those issues and I’m more than willing to deal with the backlash from confronting bigotry.

But these NBA players are not victims during this lockout. Not of David Stern.

They’re victims of their own immaturity, stupidity and delusion. They have the wherewithal and resources to stand toe to toe with commissioner Stern, but they are improperly using and undermining their power. Gumbel’s commentary on HBO’s "Real Sports" won’t help them realize and effectively utilize their power. It will assist the players in curling up in a fetal position and playing the victim.

That’s what we, African-Americans, do all too often in the aftermath of the civil-rights movement. We have no real understanding of the effort, courage and disciplined strategy Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and their supporters used to win the freedoms we now take for granted.

We ignore the laws of the jungle that we live in.

Racism, classism, sexism, power imbalances, etc. aren’t going away. They’ve been here since the beginning of time. They’re part of our flawed nature. No different from a lion’s nature to prey upon zebras, buffalos and wildebeest.

Have you ever seen zebras hold a news conference on “Animal Kingdom” demanding that lions quit attacking zebras? No. Zebras train their young in ways to avoid lions and other predators.

With millions of dollars at stake, Stern is going to use his power and every other advantage he has to get the best deal for the owners. That’s his job. There’s no amount of begging or whining that’s going to stop Stern. Nor should it.

If the players want respect during this lockout or at any other time, they should deal with Stern on his level.

Let me re-break the news to the players: Derek Fisher, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and all the other ego-bloated, basketball millionaires are not on Stern’s level in the boardroom. Stern has been balling in the basketball boardroom for three decades. The players look as out of place barging into meetings and negotiating with Stern and his lawyers as Stern and his lawyers would challenging Fisher, Wade, Garnett and Pierce on the court.

How would Wade talk to Stern if the commissioner walked on the court wanting to play one on one? You think Wade might point a finger in Stern’s face and talk to him like a child?

When I saw ESPN’s Chris Broussard breathlessly reporting that Wade shouted at Stern and demanded that Stern not talk to him like a child, that’s when I knew the lockout had turned into an urban spinoff of “Jersey Shore” with Fisher as Snooki, Wade as JWoww and KG as The Situation.

Rather than beat up Stern for being an overseer, why isn’t the focus on the foolishness of basketball players moonlighting as labor negotiators?

David Stern isn’t moonlighting. This is his day job. He has a bunch of kids with sycophant publicists and groupies trying to negotiate a multibillion-dollar labor agreement. Rather than point a finger, Stern needs to slap the taste out of the mouth of the next NBA player who enters a serious meeting, let alone starts shouting about anything.

It’s embarrassing how silly these players are acting. They’ve never heard the concept/cliche that a defendant who represents himself has a fool for a client?

Do you know what a basketball player is with a $100 million contract? A basketball player. He’s not a lawyer. He’s not a negotiator.

David Stern was commissioner of the NBA before LeBron James was born. Stern was negotiating NBA labor deals before Fisher was in grade school. How is Stern supposed to talk to a group of spoiled, entitled, delusional kids who learned boardroom manners from watching episodes of “The Apprentice?”

This column sounds harsh, like I’m anti-union and anti-players. I’m not. I’m on their side in this labor dispute. Someone needs to tell them the rules of the jungle they inhabit.

Stern is a boardroom lion. He’s the king of the jungle. The only way to get his respect or slay him is with another lion. As I said last week, that’s Billy Hunter, the executive director of the players union.

If Hunter doesn’t step up or if the players are too stupid to get out of his way, Gumbel’s next inflammatory commentary should be about the separation of fools and their money.

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