Friday, April 25


A show of hands, please, for those who have read “All the President’s Men.”

Anyone? Have we already forgotten the seminal work of twentieth century investigative reporting? Richard Nixon ring a bell?

Well, for those of you who either have forgotten that era, are too young, or never paid attention in social studies class, the book can be summed up in one sentence:

What did he know, and when did he know it.

That is to say, what did Richard Nixon know about the break-in at Watergate and when did he know it.

I bring this up, because I believe that chilling sentence can be applied to David Stern, at least in relation to the ongoing saga involving Clay Bennett’s premature attempts at relocation.

What did David Stern know, and when did he know it.

Recent emails demonstrate that Bennett’s partners, Tom Ward and Aubrey McClendon, had more than a passing interest in moving the team to Oklahoma City. That, of course, is news to no one, especially in light of McClendon’s comments last August.

However, what is newsworthy is Bennett’s premature fixation on moving the team, especially in light of the fact that he had purchased the team with a “good faith” clause that obligated him to put forth every effort for the period of 12 months to keep the team here.

This is where Stern enters the picture. On April 23, 2007, Bennett emailed Joel Litvin, President of League and Basketball Operations for the NBA, making the comment that the attempt to deliver a new arena to Seattle had essentially failed and that Oklahoma City was now be the best-case scenario. Bennett took great lengths to assuage any fears Litvin – and, tangentially, the NBA - would have regarding Oklahoma City’s market size, commenting that his hometown could “deliver a viable business operation and commitment to competitive teams.”

That email to Litvin preceded by four months the furor which arose when McClendon commented to an Oklahoma reporter that “we didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle, we hoped to come here.” McClendon’s comments caused an email exchange between Stern and Bennett, with Bennett slobbering like a cheating wife to her cuckolded husband, explaining ad nauseum that McClendon’s statement was untrue, that his ownership group was committed to getting a solution in Seattle.

Stern responded to Bennett’s email by stating, “I have been acting on the premise that everything you say about aubrey [sic] and your efforts is true—well before you said them.”

Step back from that statement for a moment. Surely, Joel Litvin and David Stern talk on a frequent basis, and surely at some point between April 23 and August 13, the two discussed Bennett’s comments to Litvin, meaning Stern’s supposed naiveté about Bennett’s aborted efforts to get a new arena were just that, supposed.

Read Stern’s email closely – does that sound like the words of a man speaking to an audience of one, or the words of a man speaking to a future audience of thousands, if not millions, of readers? Unlike the infantile Bennett, Stern clearly knew emails reappear like call girls in an election campaign, and his carefully chosen words illustrate this. His “on the premise” utterance attempts to make it clear to his future audience that he believed Bennett was still trying to make every effort to make the Sonics work in Seattle.

But is, or was, that really the case? Did Stern truly believe that? Or is he trying to have it both ways – fidelity to Seattle from side of his mouth, fidelity to Bennett out of the other?

I am beginning to believe that David Stern will not hesitate to throw Clay Bennett under the bus, if and when it comes to that point. Consider that on August 13th Joel Litvin was already investigating whether Bennett and his partners were in violation of the “good faith” aspect of their contract, an investigation Stern would have no doubt been apprised of daily, if not hourly. Therefore, his August 18th email to Bennett, partially quoted above, becomes even more curious, in that he professes to believe Bennett was doing everything he could to keep the team in Seattle. If Stern believed that, why was simultaneously investigating Bennett’s lack of “good faith?”

I am not sure how this saga will finish, nor is anyone else. I am sure, however, that the city’s dogged pursuit of the white whale in this adventure, David Stern, must proceed, despite the NBA’s repeated efforts to keep Stern from the witness stand.

Either today or Monday, an answer will come from the courts determining if Stern will be forced to testify, or if Litvin’s testimony will be sufficient. If the judge should rule in the city’s favor, and Stern is compelled to swear an oath, this case, already riveting, will be become more riveting still.

Because then, and only then, will we know what David Stern knew, and when he knew it.


chunkstyle23 said...

Cot-DAMN this saga is getting juicy. Sure I'd be ecstatic if there was a settlement that nets us our team back. But it would almost be MORE satisfying to bring down the commish and PBC with all the dirt that would come out of a trial. For sheer drama if anything.

I know, it'd be petty and vengeful. But so gratifying.

Anonymous said...

This is so GOOD... It's like reading a novel. We should be required to buy tickets to this show.

I've gotten to the point where I "expect" a new e-mail everyday. If you really step back and think about how any normal person would handle all of this news (and not listen to what they are saying in public), Bennett and Stern have GOT to be worried about this 24/7.

Mr Daija said...

As I'm sure we all see, if Seattle wins this thing that could have grave implications of the NBA's business model of holding teams for a ransom in the form of arena money. If Stern is compelled to testify then he'll have to chose between Bennett and the NBA's existing business model.

I'm not sure what I want more. If he backs the business model then he throws Bennett under the bus, decries the way they handled things and says that the NBA regrets the way Seattle was treated. We keep our team.

If he backs Bennett then it's a gamble. If they win, life stinks. If the city wins then down goes Bennett, Stern, and really a bit of the NBA. I'm worried that if teams can't extract money for arenas then owners close their pocket books a little tighter, teams don't pay players as handsomely, and in the short term we're looking at a potential walkout when the salaries stop trending up the way they have been. (Or I'm overly pessimistic)

If this happens I think it's good for the league in the long term, but I'm not positive of that. Needless to say, I'm on the edge of my seat.

Eric Reynolds said...

Ooh, how can I not get behind some Stern-as-Nixon propaganda??! You've opened up a whole new world of scorched earth rhetoric, Nuss. I'm all for it.

Anyone who has ever been deposed for a lawsuit knows it's no fun. And I can only imagine how much less fun it would be if you were actually hiding something. You have to believe that if Stern gets deposed, he's going to be pissed. Pissed at the inconvenience, pissed at the embarrassment of it, pissed at the legal exposure resulting from it. And who will he be pissed at? The City of Seattle, certainly, but how long can Bennett & Co. continue to escape some of that ire as Stern gets backed deeper and deeper into a corner? A trapped badger always snaps.

I think you're right, Nuss, that Stern won't hesitate to throw Bennett under a bus when push comes to shove. I think it was e.e. cummings who said, "There is only so much shit I am willing to eat," and pretty soon Stern is going to get bloated from his repeated trips to Clay Bennett's Oklahoma Country Shit Buffet.

Speaking of Nixon, I stumbled across this Hunter Thompson quote this morning about the Watergate Senate Sub-committee hearings that led to Nixon's resignation:

“If we could ever hold a court where the underdog puts the powers of authority on trial, most of us would be sickened by the crimes that are committed in our name. That was what we were witnessing in that Watergate hearing, except that it was still authority trying authority. Thus, a certain amount of institutional pussyfooting was in evidence. A respectful cross-examination was fastidiously observed, in spite of the awful revelations that were emerging daily. I interpreted the quiet restraint as an American attempt at dignity, although I felt certain that from time to time any one of Sam Ervin’s committee…wanted to scream out loud: ‘You lying cheating bastard! How can you possibly show us all up like this?’”

Something tells me that underneath his cool exterior, David Stern is more or less screaming the same kind of things in his brain at Clay. And that the local attorneys representing Schultz and Seattle won't feel such a need for feigned propriety when deposing Stern or Bennett. Go get 'im!

One last Thompson quote, from his obituary on Nixon for Rolling Stone:

"Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand."

Who does that sound like?

Anonymous said...

If Stern is forced to testify it will be interesting to see what his response is. Hopefully, in an effort to have the case dropped and avoid testifying, he decides to pressure Bennett to sell the Sonics in exchange for another frachise. I guess it all comes down to how much dirt is uncovered in discovery and what Stern and the NBA are willing to do keep things quiet. Lets hope there is plenty of dirt.

pg said...

I'm afraid I can't share the unbridled optimism that I'm reading here.

I don't think Stern is in ANY danger. In fact, the NBA is happy...the NBA is currently ELATED with the way things are going on... They've got an exciting playoffs underway which has pushed any minor inconveniences with the move to OKC out of the news entirely (except in Seattle, who are isolated and alone...and, ultimately, irrelevant.)

And as much as I'd love to believe in the Nixon/Stern analogy...the truth is, if the Nixon scandal happened wouldn't bring down a corrupt regime. Far worse has happened under the current administration and they're hanging around--because we're no longer shocked and outraged with the duplicitous nature of those who may have once looked up to...

Oh, Stern and his NBA cronies only look out for their bottom lines...the shock horror of it all.

This is the way of the world. The fight against that is just so much tipping at windmills, I'm afraid.

Eric Reynolds said...

"They've got an exciting playoffs underway which has pushed any minor inconveniences with the move to OKC out of the news entirely"

I dunno, the latest round of emails was headline ESPN news this morning... I think Stern has to be pissed that this is even remotely distracting from one of the most exciting playoffs in years...

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