It’s a Slam Dunk!..oh, wait a sec…
All eyes in the professional sports world have been turned on the NBA and the chaotic trading which has been going on the past week. Players are being swapped back and forth, with new deals being announced by the hour. The headlining one was, no doubt, the deal between the New Orleans Hornets, L.A. Lakers, and the Houston Rockets, which would have seen the Hornets’ superstar point guard, Chris Paul, sent to L.A. to play side by side with Kobe Bryant, five time NBA champion. But what happened hours after this trade was made public is where the real story begins. Hours after the trade was announced, the League vetoed the trade. No go. Twitter feeds blew up (Paul’s reaction: “WoW”) and ESPN was running 24/7 action on this news. It was the talk of the whole sports world.
Now, What’s the Big Deal Here?
Now, why was this so controversial? Vetoes have happened before, in all professional sports leagues. But, you see, the Hornets are the only team in the National Basketball Association (see, Association) that is not privately owned. Instead, after years of speculated financial trouble, their previous owner sold the team to the league itself in December of last year, 2010. So David Stern, commissioner of the whole league, set up a front office to run the Hornets as if they were, in fact, privately owned, and vowed to limit any personal involvement with the team. And because the league runs as a pact between 30 teams, which are essentially individual businesses or, in specific legal terms, franchises, each owner gives a certain amount of their revenue to the league itself so it can keep everything up and running, dealing with all the logistics of the league and game play. So, technically, each owner has a small stake in the team. Thus, when Commish Stern vetoed the trade, he came under heavy fire for crossing the line he set up between team owner and commissioner. Many people scrutinized his decision as a power trip, as an attempt to undermine the other owners and use his executive power to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans and prohibit another trade which creates a super-team in a big market city, a la the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, or New York Knicks. Other owners, such as Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert, (who has already experienced the pain of having a team’s sole superstar and reason of success- Lebron James- leave) commended Stern’s actions as preserving the spirit of the league and giving a small market team an attempt at relevancy and success, as without a certified star, teams tend to decline financially as well as on the court.
David vs Goliath
Did Stern authorize his power appropriately? Did he do the right thing or did he mingle in affairs that were not his to dabble in? I feel this problem can be related to that of social contracts proposed by Locke. By having a team in the league, owners give their consent to have some overarching body of power that is set up to run the league, propose new rules and business codes, and operate these legislations for the best interest and preservation of the league as a whole, much like how Locke views a social contract. The owners could have let the Hornets fail and become a defunct franchise, but they allowed the league- with their money- to purchase the team because it was deemed to be in the best interest of the league to have a team in New Orleans. And with that decision they allowed David Stern to, essentially, become the acting owner of the team. They could have made the Hornets a team owned by all the owners directly, with every major decision resting on a vote, in a situation mirroring the contract Rousseau envisions, where the government/political body barely has power. But this would be impractical and potentially illegal, as coercion and collusion could have resulted. And much like the government Locke envisions, people who consent give it the right to forbid politically harmful practices, which, in this case, was the trade, which many people thought not only would tank an chance of New Orleans being a successful franchise, but would give Los Angeles the ability to pursue another superstar player- Dwight Howard-and cement the idea that only big market teams are viable. However, others believe that Stern was acting too much as a Leviathan of sorts, who believed that his position in the league granted him status to override trades he, personally, did not approve of for “basketball reasons.” Supports of the trade think that the players New Orleans would have received would have granted similar levels of on court success and that the move was smart financially.
The plot has only been thickening over the last few days, as more reports suggest the trade is not actually dead, that Stern has rescinded his veto, and that the deal has been revised and sent to the NBA office for re-approval. Was Stern’s initial judgment the correct one? Or should he let the trade ride out and see what will happen with another Super team in the league?