- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

For a second consecutive week, David Stern’s new ball and new crackdown on complaining to officials received poor reviews.

Players union director Billy Hunter hinted at legal action against the league after 122 technical fouls were called in the first 51 games of the season. There were 66 through 50 games last season.

Mike Bibby and Carmelo Anthony were ejected from their season openers. Rasheed Wallace compared the policy to slavery. Even reputed good guys Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade received technical fouls.

LeBron James ripped the new ball, which is made of a microfiber composite instead of leather: “It’s not a good basketball. It kind of feels like a basketball you buy for your kids at Christmas or something.”

Simply the best commissioner in sports, Stern has led the NBA to unprecedented financial success since assuming his post in 1984.

His job is a high-wire balancing act. He is charged with keeping the league not just financially viable but exponentially profitable while letting players maintain their individuality — which also moves merchandise.

Stern isn’t paid more than $10 million a year to make popular decisions, just the right ones.

This was evident early in his tenure when Stern banned All-Star guard Micheal Ray Richardson from the NBA in 1986 for his continued drug use — a decision Stern calls “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as commissioner.”

Stern made the decision that the NBA would thrive, or not, without Richardson. There was a perception that many of the league’s players were on drugs, and Stern aimed to eliminate that perception.

He has handed out other lengthy suspensions — 68 games to Latrell Sprewell for choking coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997 and 73 games to Ron Artest for assaulting fans in 2004.

Stern was lauded for those decisions, but he was derided this season when he asked NBA players to leave their guns at home after Stephen Jackson fired shots outside a strip club.

Jackson and others objected to Stern’s interference with their Second Amendment rights, as if those included firing shots outside a strip club.

The NBA has drafted a mission statement of values and social responsibility. It pledges that league employees will “conduct [them]selves in accordance with the highest standards of honesty, truthfulness, ethnics and fair dealing.”

This legislation of good behavior is Stern’s gamble.

It is his vision for the league, his league, and he expects players to adjust to the new ball and maintain a new civility with officials.

If he’s right, no one will remember his new rules a year from now. Just like no one remembers last season’s new rule — the dress code.

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