Thursday, January 2, 2020

David "Stern was super elite at manufacturing the leverage to get people to take his side"

From a very long post at TrueHoop:
Stern’s wizarding skills were never more powerful than this press conference, on July 24, 2007. That summer, there were grave conversations from plugged in people about, potentially, the end of the NBA. Then Stern stood at a lectern before a blue curtain in Manhattan and hypnotized us into believing the Donaghy scandal—possibly the worst moment of Stern’s tenure—was under control all along. He used the phrase “rogue, isolated, criminal.” That July day, broadcast live, Stern laid out how goddamned stable the NBA was, how perfectly they had always managed everything. In a live broadcast, he delivered a tonic to cure the panic threatening the league.

But a lot of it was audacious fiction. Now we know that the NBA had done a terrible job. This is my favorite account. Donaghy was a flagrant and serial offender of practically all rules, starting in school. It’s hard to imagine he’d pass any kind of employment screening. Donaghy was making insane numbers of phone calls to another referee. The league’s lawyers later found that every referee engaged in gambling, typically on horse racing or golf—which sounds innocent enough, but can still get a referee in debt to the wrong people. Every part of the operation, the coverup, and the NBA’s investigation was sloppy as hell.

By the end of Donaghy’s scandal, the betting was so heavy on his games that half the gambling world figured it out; reportedly, in many cases, bettors who weren’t even on the inside were able to bet along with the conspirators. And yet the NBA was clueless. The FBI was involved, there was talk of fixed games, allegations other referees might be involved, and really just an incredible stench of mismanagement. I’ve never met anyone who knows a lot about sports gambling who believes the NBA did anything particularly well in the Donaghy case.

What they did amazingly well, was make the scandal go away. While I can’t celebrate Stern for being particularly good, the competence of that press conference was staggering. He put on a good show.