Pistons' protest is a problem for players
As the reports of player mutiny in Detroit began circulating throughout the NBA community on Friday, detailing disdain, disrespect and total disregard for a head coach -- and ultimately for a Pistons organization once considered the gold standard -- a palpable level of disappointment should have permeated throughout professional sports. And especially throughout the African-American community.
It's never good for their image when athletes, considered laborers in the eyes of the viewing public, get their backs up, start flexing their proverbial muscle and begin provoking changes instead of just speaking privately on the need for them. And when news came out that a group of has-beens, wannabes and wish-they-could'ves filling up the Pistons' roster had skipped Friday's shootaround before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in an effort to expedite the firing of coach John Kuester, their flagrant idiocy and insensitivity put NBA players in a very bad light with the public.
Specifically because the league is primarily black.
Kuester will be out eventually, of course, if for no other reason than the fact that Pistons president Joe Dumars possesses the decency to relieve Kuester of having to coach a team of players who spew obscenities to his face and dare him to do something about it -- literally! And since a change in ownership is imminent in Auburn Hills, who's to say the new owner won't decide it's time for Dumars to exit the premises as well?
And then there's the plight of Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, who has had a hard-enough time negotiating on behalf of 400-plus players for more than a decade against the likes of commissioner David Stern and 30 owners ravenous to curb player salaries. With this latest faux pas on the part of the players -- clearly oblivious or insensitive to the position this behavior puts them in the eyes of the league, the owners and the public -- one can only imagine how NBA players will be viewed now as their negotiations with the owners pick up.
There's never a time for insubordination. Not in today's wide world of sports. With NBA players averaging $5.8 million in salary, and on the verge of negotiating a collective bargaining deal that could amount to $10 billion or more in total value, folks don't care too much about the feelings of the modern-day athlete. Performance, results and behavior matter most.
But if we are being truthful, we can see that discipline and control climbed up the ladder of importance once LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh manipulated free agency last summer and teamed up in Miami.
None of them committed a crime. None of them were insubordinate. None of them broke any rules, or any laws. And these three friends are about as close to model NBA citizens as you'll find.
Still, nobody cares.
What the public cares about most was the image of proverbial inmates running the asylum. This analogy, however fraught with racial and socioeconomic baggage, is precisely the precarious lens through which this league of more than 70 percent black participation is being regarded. Players dictating matters to owners -- instead of it being the other way around -- and having the temerity to exhibit a prowess usually displayed by the older, white gentlemen who customarily cut the checks provoked feelings of discomfort among the public at large.
Yet on a relative basis, even the trio's maverick tendencies were more tolerable to the public than what the pampered and privileged Pistons did entering this weekend. As has been reported, Richard Hamilton and Chris Wilcox were fined for missing the shootaround, while Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey drew fines for being late.
"In all fairness, some who missed shootaround actually said they weren't feeling good," one member of the Pistons organization told me over the weekend. "They had legitimate reasons. But there were others who talked openly about mutiny. Nobody appreciates the way Rip Hamilton has been treated, along with some other things.
"Bottom line: The players can't stand the coach. They don't respect him because they don't believe he relates to players. But no matter how you feel about him, you don't pull the kind of nonsense we displayed on the bench in Philadelphia on Friday night. It was embarrassing, humiliating. Dudes are lucky they're still wearing an NBA uniform after that."
This person wasn't talking just about players spewing profanity at Kuester or ignoring him in huddles during games, as some have done -- or their finding time to call him the worst coach they've ever seen to his face because they feel he's not personable and that he's scared of players, which has also happened. This particular member of the Pistons was alluding to witnessing several of the players laughing openly on the Pistons' bench as Kuester was being ejected from the game in Philadelphia on Friday.
Sadly, they appear clueless to the potential ramifications of their public disrespect.
This isn't 1982, when Magic Johnson purportedly forced out Paul Westhead. This isn't 2004, when Glenn Robinson, a.k.a. The Big Dog, used his belligerence and apathy to force Randy Ayers out of Philadelphia. This isn't even 2007, when Stephon Marbury had just finished becoming a nightmare for Larry Brown en route to becoming one for Isiah Thomas.
It's a new day. A new era. A time when the masses, still feeling the residual effects of an economic recession, are growing increasingly disenchanted with the idea of padding the wallets of those apparently unappreciative of the affluence they've captured.
The general sporting public is eager to establish some level of law and order, a return to the rules of yesteryear.
When Hunter is sitting on the opposite side of the table from Stern and the representatives for 30 owners who have reportedly lost hundreds of millions of dollars, they'll look for validation as to why players don't deserve the share of the pie they are getting.
They'll point to guaranteed years that have not translated into guaranteed productivity, and to expenditures that seem excessive. But mostly, they'll point to discipline, specifically the absence of it and the greater need for control so as to avoid the specter of a diminishing product.
And when that day comes, what better example to display than the Pistons.
Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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