Has the NBA outgrown David Stern?

Eric McErlain | Sports Blogger

One of the heartier laughs I’ve enjoyed in recent years has been seeing NBA Commissioner David Stern try to discipline Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban by issuing repeated fines. Overall, the league has fined Cuban over $1.7 million over the course of 13 separate incidents. And while I’m sure that Cuban may have been chagrined at times for being tossed in the dock that often, I can’t imagine that he felt much pain — with a net worth of over $2.3 billion, he can certainly afford to be as outspoken as he wants to be.

The situation is much the same with New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Already the second-richest man in Russia — Prokhorov reportedly has a net worth of over $18 billion — the precious metals magnate is apparently ready to take things to another level entirely by challenging Vladimir Putin in the next Russian presidential election.

To put it simply, it’s one thing to think you can fine a billionaire so often you can shame him into silence. It’s quite another thing entirely if you think you can get away with the same sort of game plan when you’re dealing with a man who could very well be in command of the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons before too long.

In a way, you’d have to say that Stern is something of a victim of his own success. The NBA was a much different place when Stern got the job of commissioner back in 1984. While owners have always been wealthy, you didn’t have too many billionaires owning teams in the mid-1980s, when Michael Jordan was just coming on the scene. But now, thanks in large part to Stern’s efforts to grow the game internationally, regional businessmen have been replaced by globe-straddling titans like Prokhorov and Cuban.

As Bill Simmons pointed out last week, those sorts of folks aren’t used to hearing the word no, something that was never more apparent than when Stern overturned the massive multi-player trade that would have sent New Orleans guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers — a deal that was reportedly scuppered at the behest of the 29 owners who collectively own the Hornets.

Something tells me that situations like the Paul trade will keep coming up. And unless Stern somehow finds a way to develop his own independent nuclear deterrent, he’s going to be backing down before his bosses more often than he ever imagined.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.

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