- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

David Stern, as shrewd as he is as a CEO, is micromanaging the idiosyncratic spirit out of the NBA.

At least it beats airbrushing Allen Iverson’s tattoos out of a photograph.

Stern has imposed the referee/civility rule on the players and eliminated the leather ball from his venues, which follows his implementation of a player dress code before last season.

All three moves reflect a creeping corporate mentality that is at odds with the league’s history, its devotion to the individual and its growing appeal across the globe.

The NBA may be no better than the No. 3 professional sport in America, but its increasing popularity in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa puts it an unrivaled marketing position.

Football is too American to be embraced in persuasive numbers abroad, and baseball is celebrated in Latin America and Asia but nowhere else.

The controversy regarding the dress code has passed, with the players falling in line to ill effect.

Yet the NBA has moved closer to the cookie-cutter business environment.

It was fashionable of the NBA intelligentsia at this time last year to say that Middle America somehow was put off by the excessive jewelry and tattoos of certain stars.

No doubt Maude in Des Moines, Iowa, might have had trouble relating to the fashion sense of Iverson. Then again, Maude’s grandmother possibly had trouble relating to the scraggly bell bottoms of the free-love generation of the ‘60s.

Here is what we know with our malleable culture: What seems edgy one month is out of date the next.

Change is inevitable, whether in the fashion or entertainment industry.

Yet change in the NBA is now defined as the suits see it.

Perhaps Scot Pollard’s bad hair days eventually could come under the scrutiny of the suits.

The dress code, of course, beget the call to be nice to the referees, an amusing proclamation in a country as whiny as ours.

The players and referees appear to have coexisted about as well as possible in the first 59 seasons of the NBA’s existence.

Now Stern has armed the referees with even more power to control the outcome of a game, with the premature banishments of leading players, a dubious proposition.

NBA referees already display too much bias in deciding who deserves to go to the free throw line and who deserves a foul.

The bias of the NBA referees undermines the prospects of USA Basketball whenever it sends a squad to international competitions. FIBA’s referees do not play that game, as we watched anew this past summer.

As for the much-maligned synthetic ball now employed by the NBA, it has produced a few peculiar sights halfway into the opening month of the season.

None was more odd than Vince Carter’s game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation that stuck to the backboard before dropping through the cylinder.

That was a playground-ball moment if ever there was one and never would have occurred with the leather ball, as Carter readily acknowledged after the Nets defeated the Wizards in overtime.

The ball-inspired complaints of the players have been fairly pronounced, from Shaquille O’Neal to Steve Nash, who had a career-high 10 turnovers against the Mavericks last week.

The synthetic ball has been found to have less bounce in it than the leather ball. It also bounces erratically on occasion and is prone to sweat-induced turnovers because it does not absorb moisture, as the leather ball does.

The players have no choice but to make the adjustment because of the tinkering of the suits.

But it would have been wise of the suits to gather more input from the players before unilaterally adopting the synthetic ball.

It is about the quality of the product in the end, and even if all the players are familiar with the synthetic ball from college and international competitions, their views on the switch are not unimportant.

Alas, they are now stuck with the synthetic ball, literally in the case of Carter’s errant shot that led to overtime.

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