David Stern Has Gone Insane...The NBA is a Joke
Kevin Hench / FOXSports.com
Posted: 2 hours ago
How preposterous is David Stern's decision to allow his referees to gamble?
When I sent the story to my buddy Sully he thought it was from The Onion.
I'm not kidding. And neither is David Stern. He has thought it over and — at the height of fan distrust of NBA officials — decided a little Pai Gow poker never hurt anybody.
After an internal investigation revealed that all 56 NBA officials had violated their contractual prohibition against gambling and over half had placed wagers in casinos, Stern concluded that while you might be able to fight city hall, you can't fight Mandalay Bay.
Not only did the commissioner lift his ban on gambling in general, he now doesn't see anything wrong with letting his refs gamble a little in a casino in the off-season, so long as they steer clear of the sports book.
Allowing your refs to gamble just a little is like letting your limo driver get just a little drunk or allowing your daughter to get just a little pregnant. It's a horrible freakin' idea.
You've heard of gateway drugs? The casino is literally a gateway to the sports book. You walk through it to get to the sports book.
We need to call in the Securities and Exchange Commission and find out if David Stern is shorting the NBA. This reversal is that perplexing.
Faced with the conundrum of having to either sanction his refs or grant them amnesty and relax his rules, Stern — who has been an absolute martinet on dress code, criticizing officials and leaving the bench — picked an issue of potential nuclear annihilation for his league on which to become Mister Softie.
I mean, it's not like Stern just had a massive gambling scandal involving a referee, right?
Oh, wait. That's right, he did. And he does know what happens when fans begin to doubt the legitimacy of a sport, right? Maybe his career will be a parabola, leading the NBA out of the wilderness to the mountaintop and then back down into the valley with a boxing-sized market share.
That Stern would do an about-face on gambling involving referees in the wake of the Tim Donaghy scandal is more shocking than if Alcoholics Anonymous announced it was now cool with beer and wine. (Just no hard stuff.)
In reconsidering the league's rules, Stern said, "Our ban on gambling is absolute, and in my view it is too absolute, too harsh and was not particularly well-enforced over the years."
This from the guy who is so letter of the law that he torpedoed his league's own playoff season last spring by enforcing the ticky-tackiest leaving-the-bench suspensions in the history of the knee-jerk rule. When Stern suspended Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for running to the defense of Steve Nash after Robert Horry's calculated hip check, the commissioner drained all the drama out of the NBA playoffs by essentially awarding the Spurs the title during the Western Conference semifinals.
Even though no punches were thrown and no scuffle ensued, Stern insisted he could not make even the slightest reinterpretation of his own rule or entertain any mitigating factors that might allow the Suns — who it should be noted in perpetuity were victimized by awful officiating in Game 3, a game called by a guy who admitted to betting on games he worked — a fair chance to win the series.
In Stern's logic, leaving the bench to support a teammate who'd been the victim of a classless cheap shot, merited the death penalty for the team.
But listen to him on allowing his refs to enjoy some R&R at the MGM.
"I determined going into a casino isn't a capital offense," he said in Thursday's press conference. (No, wearing jeans on an NBA bench, that's a capital offense.)
How about taking a hot tub with Richie "The Fixer" Perry after a night at the tables? Is that cool now too?
Stern is right in that some recreational, clear-eyed, non-sports betting in the off-season is not in itself a danger to the league. But does Stern really believe that this is the nature of that particular vice? Particularly when Stern himself is the original Slippery Slope Guy.
Why did he implement zero tolerance of players complaining about calls? Why did he ban Timberlands on the bench? Why wouldn't he cut any slack to the Suns in the playoffs?
Because in Stern's pre-10/25 logic, those were slippery slopes and if he didn't draw some lines, the Malice in the Palace was going to be a twice-weekly occurrence. But 10/25 changed everything. Because on Thursday he gave his refs a pass on a slope so slippery it might as well be coated with Astroglide.
Gambling, Stern may or may not know, is insidious. Art Schlichter, Pete Rose and Hedake Smith got on that slippery slope and rode it all the way to rock bottom.
If one or more NBA referees have some genetic predisposition to compulsive disorders, does the league really want to authorize them to explore the dark side?
The reason refs shouldn't be allowed to gamble is not to prevent a guy from walking into a sports book, laying down a large wager on a game he's officiating and then fixing it. That's not how it happens.
The reason refs — and online poker addicts — shouldn't gamble is because next to a massive coke habit it is the fastest way to financial ruin. And that's when things get dicey. A broke ref is a susceptible ref. And a susceptible ref — as we thought Stern just learned — is a time bomb for his league.
If you see an NBA ref at the World Series of Poker in the summer, how differently might you regard a dubious call he makes the following spring?
Before Thursday the NBA's rules about officials gambling were absolute. And for once, they should have been.
If asking someone not to gamble is a huge sacrifice for them, then they have a gambling problem and shouldn't be officiating a major professional sports league in the first place.
The only upside from Stern's press conference is that this decision is so idiotic it will distract people from his equally inexcusable abdication of leadership on Isiah Thomas and Jim Dolan.