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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Updated: March 22, 12:57 PM ET
Image paranoia is getting the best of the NBA

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

Matt Millen's query about the absence of a player's male anatomy was before its time. Millen -- or anyone else for that matter -- should be posing that same question to NBA commissioner David Stern.

There are so many good things going on in the NBA right now, but the league's hypersensitivity makes you forget that Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit and San Antonio have revived the concept of team basketball and what terrific ambassadors Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade have become.

David Stern
David Stern has the NBA pointed in an elitist direction.
The post-Palace-brawl era in the NBA is a lot like the post-9/11 era -- full of fear, worry, paranoia and hysteria.

I feel for Stern because he has the difficult task of marketing a mostly black league to mainstream America -- which guarantees that any offenses will be overblown and that everything is treated as worst-case scenario.

But I don't like the NBA right now, and it has nothing to do with the product on the floor. The NBA feels like a dividing force. It feels polarizing, unappealing and elitist.

The greatest thing about the Magic-Bird-Isiah-Jordan era was that the game easily crossed and meshed racial, cultural and class lines.

But that's not the case anymore. It feels as though there is a class war going on, with the NBA going overboard to distance itself from the urban roots that turned it into a global icon. Subliminally and overtly, the message is being sent that this game -- the one that is so fantastic -- should be enjoyed and patronized only by certain people.

And you know exactly who I mean by "certain people."

Phil Jackson was right. There is a "witch hunt" in the NBA -- only it's not directed at Kobe Bryant.

It's directed at anyone who dares to defy or threaten the vanilla league Stern is sorely attempting to create.

That's why His Commissionership has dished out $110,000 in fines -- or a little more than what Pacman Jones takes to the strip club -- to Phil Jackson, Danny Ainge, Michael Jordan and Don Nelson in the past week.

Stern used to be a visionary, but he's operating like that aggravating hall monitor in middle school everyone wanted to push down the stairs. But instead of handing out demerits and stonewalling trips to the bathroom, Stern is using the almighty wallet as target practice.

How amazing is it that $60,000 of those fines came because of one player -- Texas star Kevin Durant? I'm sure the mention of Durant in this column will prompt Stern to hit me up for 50 bucks.

It's so frustrating to watch the NBA police itself to death and try to control things it can't.

People who believe the NBA is full of thugs will think that way no matter what. The NBA could play Paul Anka at every arena, ban rappers from NBA games, enforce haircuts and short shorts, but that isn't going to stop hip-hop fans from loving the game.

If anything, the NBA's tactics are only heightening the perception that the league is "full of thugs."

(By the way, 15 minutes have passed … has a NFL player been arrested or questioned in connection with a crime?)

The more Stern tries to fix the NBA's reputed image problem, the faster the league becomes less enjoyable and more elitist.

Even though moving the All-Star Game to Paris was discussed a couple of years ago, the idea of taking the event overseas is gaining momentum because of the criticism the league took after this year's game in Vegas.

It's too bad Stern doesn't have the guts to admit it was a poorly conceived idea to hold the game in a city that prides itself on unlawfulness, which -- gasp! -- definitely would draw unlawful types. Instead, Stern is kowtowing to hysteria once again, using the game's worldwide flavor as an excuse to take the event elsewhere.

Speaking of Vegas, let's revisit that topic for a moment, shall we? That weekend boils down to this: Some people had a really good time. Others thought it was a cross between the last 40 minutes of the movie "Heat" and a Friday night in Compton.

But no matter what your experience was, it is unfair and irresponsible to indict a league (or an entire race) because some people behaved badly in a city where being law-abiding is rarely encouraged.

Excuse me for tensing up when I hear people describing the scene in Vegas as "thug" and "urban" because the suspicious part of me can't help but wonder if what they're really saying is that All-Star Weekend has become too low-class and black and it's time to move it someplace where those differences aren't as noticeable.

Look, I was fine with the dress code and, to some degree, with the increased scrutiny on players' interaction with officials. But I don't like an NBA that fosters and encourages an us-vs.-them approach.

Because Millen isn't here to pose the question, I'll ask Mr. Stern personally: Where hast thine anatomy gone?

Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN The Magazine, can be reached at