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.