Stern’s Retirement Is Jeff’s Triumphant Moment

28 Oct

JEFF IS HOLDING THIS POSE IN HEAVEN NOW IN CELEBRATION OF DAVID STERN’S RETIREMENT ANNOUNCEMENT

When Jeff began his crusade in earnest, in the spring of 2009, to raise awareness of what he believed to be NBA Commissioner David Stern’s repeated manipulation of the playoffs, through directives given to his referees to ensure that his favored teams and superstars made the finals, I knew it was only a matter time before he wore his man down and caused him to step aside.  Yes, it all sounds very nice that Stern has decided to retire on the 30th anniversary of the day he started as Commissioner, but by all accounts, he is a healthy and vigorous man with a coveted job, and I believe he is simply burnt out by having to deal with the movement against him that Jeff began about 3 ½ years ago and that a multitude of NBA fans have carried on for him since Jeff’s tragic death.

Alex Feintuch wrote on Facebook that “This would literally be the happiest moment of Jeff’s life.” He may be right, because what separates Jeff from many of us is that he brought unparalleled soul and passion to the people and the causes that he cared about the most.  Putting an end to Stern’s alleged wrongdoings, for the purpose of restoring the NBA’s standing as a respected sports league, was one such cause.  The election of President Obama was another, and I’ve written about that in detail.  He was passionate too about his family and friends, and anyone who partied with Jeff over the years can attest to the passion he brought to those evenings.  As his friend Tarzan from London wrote in his blog post last year,

“he immediately became the go-to guy when somebody needed a pick-me-up, whether this meant chilling in his room and watching Entourage or a basketball match, or going out somewhere, anywhere, after a few American-sized shots of vodka at the kitchen counter…But more clearly than that, whenever I want to remember his voice in my head I can’t help hearing words of drive and encouragement – “Alright. Why not? Let’s do it.” We had many memorable nights out that would otherwise have been sitting by a laptop with the stench of the sewage-filled Ifor Evans corridors creeping into our rooms, if it wasn’t for Jeff.” (“Cawfee”, October 18, 2011)

The following emails and article excerpts written by Jeff document his 16 month impassioned crusade to ultimately achieve the Commissioner’s ouster, which finally came to fruition on Thursday.

May 27, 2009: “Here are some examples of espn.com posters responding to the state of officiating in the playoffs right now.  So you can continue to be naïve and think nothing is going on, but just know that there are plenty of people who think the exact same thing as I do.”

May 28, 2009: “Yea, they definitely choked, but it’s awfully hard to win when you’re fighting the other team, yourselves, and the refs at the same time. I hope the Magic close it out tonight, and if not tonight, home in Game 6, because we all know there’s no way the refs would ever let the Magic win game 7 on the road, especially if the Lakers have already clinched.”

May 28, 2009: “And I completely agree – if it’s not Lakers-Cavs, the league loses, which is why I can tolerate a Lakers win. Actually, the thing is, I think the league wants the Cavs even more, because LeBron is the up and coming star, and Stern wants him to be the face of the league. In other words, I think he would much rather have Nuggets-Cavs than Lakers-Magic, which is why it’s even more important that the Magic win. I really think they will, though – the Magic are the better team, and I don’t think he can get the Cavs into the finals without starting an outright scandal.”

June 8, 2009: “Read Bill Simmons’ latest column if you get the chance. Just when I was starting to think that the officiating might be somewhat fair in this series, Simmons points out the fallacy of that thinking.”

April 28, 2010: “What NBA commissioner David Stern has done over the past few years is package his brand as a game glorifying individuals at the expense of the team.  It’s all about the superstar.  It’s about LeBron’s breathtaking dunks.  It’s about Kobe’s schooling three defenders on a ridiculous fadeaway.  What it’s not about any longer is the team.  And that’s sad…because the last time I checked, basketball was a team sport.” (“Why I Don’t Want a Lakers-Cavs Finals…and Why You Shouldn’t Either”, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

May 3, 2010: “There are enough of us who care, even as the majority of people in the U.S. continue to be complicit in this scandal. Back in the ’70s, most people thought Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were crazy when they came out with their initial accusations about Watergate.”

May 4, 2010: “Apparently David Stern wants LeBron to stay in Cleveland because it would “validate the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement.” This morning’s ESPN poll question is “Was David Stern out of line in voicing a preference for the outcome of LeBron James’ impending free agency?”

After Game 1, Doc Rivers sent 4 plays into the league to be reviewed. Asked which plays they were, he wouldn’t say because he said he was ‘scared to tell you which ones because I may get fined for it.’ Boss Stern at his finest.”

May 5, 2010: “That’s good news that LeBron seems certain to stay. But you know what’s great news? Last night David Stern was at the Magic game and before the game he went to center court to announce that the 2012 All-Star Game will be in Orlando’s new arena. And the crowd booed him heavily!!! (the writer of the article i’m reading thinks it’s because of all the bad foul calls that went against Dwight Howard in the first round). I’m so happy the Magic fans are recognizing how Stern is trying to screw them. Again, in a fairly reffed series, the Magic would beat the Cavs in 5 or 6.”

June 17, 2010: “I think the way the whole league operates—the tyrannical nature of its commissioner with regard to stifling criticism and doling out fines, the blatant star treatment, the lack of consistency and accountability among referees, the multitude of adoring fans who vicariously soak up all the glamor and glitz of a few players’ superstardom—is sickening.” (“Celtics-Lakers Game 7, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

June 24, 2010: “You’d think that over time, the tendency would be toward reform as more and more people have caught onto the egregious way in which the league operates (type in “The NBA is” on Google and the first three terms that the search engine provides to complete the sentence are “fixed”, “rigged”, and “a joke”).”  (“Personal Foul: A Telling of a Corrupt Enterprise”, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

September 24, 2010: “I’m not sure if this is more egregious or laughable (definitely some of both), but with each reign-tightening, dictatorial maneuver by Boss Stern, the NBA loses more and more credibility as a professional sports league to be taken seriously…But once again, Stern has erred badly here.  Look at how his league has been criticized by fans and players alike in the last couple of postseasons concerning the officiating.  Does he really think that this is just going to go away?  That ruling with an even more iron-clad fist is going to fix the league’s image and credibility problem?  News flash, Mr. Stern: this is just gonna make it worse.  Much worse.” (“Stern Tightens Dictatorial Hold on League”, www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com)

In the end, Jeff was right.  In his last blog post above, written just 46 days before all of his passion for life inexplicably flamed out and he cut out on all of us, he made it clear to Stern that the fallout from his egregious behavior would not just go away.  And it didn’t.  As Stephen Babb of The Bleacher Report wrote on October 25th, the day of Stern’s announcement,

“Once we get past the understandable elation surrounding the departure of an increasingly unpopular NBA commissioner, we probably owe David Stern a fair shake.  Barring any scandalous revelations confirming years of conspiratorial speculation, history will almost certainly judge Stern more kindly than we have…Stern’s dismissive attitude and heavy-handed reprisals against criticism earned him a reputation bordering on the tyrannical, and there was certainly truth to that perception.”

I have received nearly a dozen emails since last week’s post in which I shared Jeff’s article about the 2006 playoff elimination of the Yankees by the Tigers (“Hey Yanks, Be Happy Jeff’s Not The G.M.”), all of which noted how eerily relevant Jeff’s 2006 article was to the 2012 Yankees’ playoff flop.  And how similar the circumstances are.  In that article, Jeff called for the Yankees to trade Alex Rodriguez in light of his “chronic postseason failures”.  Today, in the aftermath of the Yankees’ 2012 playoff collapse, speculation is again rampant that such a trade may finally happen.  As usual, Jeff was way ahead of the curve.

So too with the David Stern situation.  Three and a half years after Jeff began his crusade to get rid of Stern, he finally got his man.  And just as Jeff noted that the Commissioner “packaged” the NBA as a game glorifying individuals at the expense of the team (see April 28th above), Stern has now packaged his retirement as a happy 30th anniversary party.  I guess that could be the case and perhaps appropriate for a 70 year old man, but I don’t buy it.

The movement that Jeff spawned only intensified after his death, as did the vitriol from NBA fans everywhere who resented Stern’s initial blocking of the Chris Paul trade and his role in last year’s NBA lockout.  I believe the pressure on Stern from those who called him out on his controlling behavior became unbearable, but rather than retiring now, he figured he could save face by announcing that it would be on his 30th anniversary.  Expect him to maintain a low profile until then in an attempt to somehow salvage his legacy

There are no words to describe the agony of my not being able to share this moment with Jeff, to not be able to receive a triumphant text from him on this occasion, and to not even be able to post on his Facebook page, as I was not a member when he was alive and am therefore not a Facebook “friend” of his.  There is some consolation, though, in knowing that for those closest to him, Jeff was the first person they thought of when they heard the news.  As Alex Feintuch posted, “Jeff was the first person/thing/thought in my mind when the news broke.”

And at the end of that day, doesn’t that say it all about Jeff’s own legacy?  When things happen in subject areas that Jeff was passionate about, people think of him first, and I believe they always will.  Just like Mike Philson did when he commented on my September 26th post on Jeff’s support of Obama by saying, “Jeff woulda been supporting the campaign in 2012.  No doubt I’ll think of him on election day.” And just like Dan Roberts did when he sent me a link about an egregious preseason call involving LeBron and posted on my wall this past Wednesday, “Jeff would have had a lot to say about this one.” These comments are the ultimate testaments to the joy and enthusiasm with which Jeff lived.

And to this day, that passion is what defines him and is what causes people to instantly think of him in relation to important sports and political topics.  I am very thankful for this, as it is a clear indication that he remains alive in so many peoples’ hearts and minds.  And as his father, that is part of what enables me to slowly heal—knowing that he may be physically gone but that his memory is anything but.  It is alive and vibrant, and even two years later, current events have his name and imprint all over them.  I still have the email I received almost 5 months after Jeff died from a former travel basketball teammate and friend of his.  He wrote,

“Although Jeff and I did not keep in touch after graduation, I would always think about his reactions to sports.  In fact, if there was ever a trade, upset, David Stern reading, etc., my brother and I would always say to each other, ‘wow, I can’t wait to see what Jeff posts on his blog or on facebook.”

Tragically, neither this young man nor anyone else will see any posts from Jeff regarding Stern’s retirement.  However, Drew and I, as well as some of Jeff’s friends, have done that for him.

And on behalf of Jeff, I say to David Stern: “good riddance”.  I hope the noise from the party going on in Heaven didn’t keep you awake at night this weekend.

-Rich Klein

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