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David Stern's Hoop Schemes
by Seth Sandronsky
December 28, 2004

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As the U.S. military was blowing Fallujah, Iraq, to bits to make it safe for elections in January, some pro basketball players fought with some fans who heckled and harassed them in Michigan on November 19. The brawl was shown on TV nationwide. Later, prosecutors filed criminal charges against five Indiana Pacers players and seven fans involved in the melee at the Pacers game against the Detroit Pistons. Mass media generally showered attention on this example of sports violence. In contrast, there was scant information from the same media outlets on U.S. military violence in the streets of Fallujah. U.S. reporters embedded with the American military had few chances to show and tell readers and viewers what really happened in Fallujah. Thus Iraqis – kids, women and men – killed and wounded by the U.S. military were largely hidden from Americans’ view.

Yet in plain sight were the penalties handed down to the fighting players by National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner David Stern. With no hesitation, he suspended nine of them. “Stern earned universal plaudits from sponsors and marketing experts for his swift actions,” Sacramento Bee sportswriter Debbie Arrington wrote on Dec. 7.  Apparently, Stern soothed the nerves of businesses invested in the NBA, meaning corporate America.

Perhaps Stern’s heroics took him off track for a minute from doing what he does best: Lobbying local government officials to build new arenas for NBA owners. As the lives of America’s working majority become less stable under President Bush’s economic policies, Stern works hard to funnel tax dollars to NBA billionaires. They include the owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, Gavin and Joe Maloof. Earlier this year, the Maloofs and the well-heeled consultants who speak for them to elected officials had pleaded for local taxpayers to pay for a new Kings arena with luxury suites.

Stern backed the brothers Maloof over the objections of some working people who opposed such funding. In fact, Stern telephoned politicians to try and persuade them to see things the Maloofs’ way. Otherwise, other cities would quickly greet the Kings with open arms and tax dollars, Stern said, ready to give away public funds to this NBA franchise. Not that long ago, Sacramento politicians inked a deal to sell about $73 million in bonds to help keep the Kings financially solvent. Here was a case of ordinary people paying debt service to bondholders for the “privilege” of keeping pro sports in town.

When Wall Street plays, Main Street pays. Got game?

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:

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