Within hours of the NBA owners and players formally approving a new collective bargaining agreement – officially ending the lockout — the league committed a major PR blunder on Thursday by vetoing a trade that would have sent star point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers.
This wasn’t a mistake because it drew the ire of Laker fans, but because just about everyone following the situation was shocked by the precedent-setting power play.
The initial news of the trade broke on Twitter – the same day it was the hub of news for the Virginia Tech shooting – thanks to the reporting of Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
But shortly after Yahoo, ESPN and other outlets confirmed that the New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers had all agreed to the trade, word leaked that the league killed the move.
The commissioner’s office said it was in the “best interest” of the league, and commissioner David Stern does have the power to do this – the NBA still owns the Hornets after all.
Yet sports reporters were baffled by Stern’s decision.
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch tweeted “The irony is rescinding the Chris Paul trade is far worse PR for the NBA than the trade itself. Keystone Kops look tonight.”
Bill Simmons, a self-professed Laker hater, wrote in a column that “The National Basketball Association has lost its way.”
Simmons seemed to take special exception to the move, writing that Stern has lost control of the league and tweeting Friday morning that the league has spun into chaos. He also claimed that "multiple front office execs" are seriously considering quitting their jobs.
One NBA executive even told Wojnarowski that Stern is “drunk on power” and then laced his comments with a series of expletives.
The players involved didn’t know what to make of it either.
This decision is indicative of a shift in philosophy, one that guided the new CBA as well.
It prevents one of the league’s top stars from moving to its second-largest media market. While that type of move is par for the course in the NBA — or in most sports leagues for that matter — that is clearly something the league wants to prevent. At least for now.
The new CBA was engineered to help smaller-market teams compete with teams like the Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Indeed, several owners protested the move, including Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose letter to Stern leaked on the Internet late Thursday night.
The tirade, written in Comic Sans — like his famous letter about his former player, LeBron James — dubbed the move "a travesty."
The NBA also wants the keep the value of the Hornets as high as possible for its eventual sale, and losing Paul would certainly lower the sale price.
But the NBA remains a star-driven league, one whose power has long been concentrated in the major media markets. NBA Finals draw better ratings when the Lakers, Celtics, New York Knicks or any other major team are playing.
Is it really in the league’s best interest to try and change that?
Perhaps ESPN columnist and former Los Angeles Times staffer J.A. Adande put it best: "Keep in mind, this is the same NBA that was willing to kill the entire season and trash interest in its product to get the financial deal it wanted."