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Uncle Dave's lies do not mean NBA is contracting

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Ladies and gentlemen, David Stern. Today's topic: Hiding an enduring truth in a mountain of nonsense, blather, prevarication and out-and-out whoppers just to amuse and amaze us on a slow Friday.

While Comrade Berger helped outline the tenor of the NBA labor-management dispute by pointing out that most of it is hilarious posturing by men who are far too old to be calling attention to their postures, there was this particular gem that stood out among the commissioner's compost.

The contraction myth is particularly laughable, even by David Stern's standards. (AP)  
The contraction myth is particularly laughable, even by David Stern's standards. (AP)  
When asked by someone who either works in Memphis or is crazy if Stern's threat of contracting the league should scare the basketball fans of Tennessee, he said, "No, it shouldn't be. It's a good word to use, especially in collective bargaining."

Exactly. And why? Because it's a lie, and a particularly goofy one at that. Stern knows it, and with that gloriously glacial smile of his, he doesn't even try to hide it.

I mean, why stop at contraction? Why not say, "If we can't get a deal, we're going to get all the season ticket holders, put them in the arena, and then demolish the arena?" Or, "If we can't get a deal to our liking, we'll have to seriously consider poisoning your water supply." Or, "If the players won't bend to our demands, we may have to start killing all the puppies."

They all have the same weight, the same value, and in the case of the puppies, they can scare seven-year-old children.

As Comrade Berger has told us time and again while following this little tale of "Will you guys please shut the hell up?", the two sides will get an agreement, both will claim victory, and within a year the owners will start screaming how they got flim-flammed again and won't be happy until they can force the players to work for free. And blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah.

But the contraction myth is particularly laughable, even by a commissioner's standards. Do we doubt that contraction has been discussed? No, especially since revenue sharing is being discussed, and any rich owner will tell you that the fewer hands that are out, the less cash must be paid.

But none of the NBA owners has the scratch to pay off two, or four, or six owners enough money to make them whole again, let alone satisfy them. This is rich owner-poor owner politics and has nothing to do with the players at all, except in using it as a Wiffle bat to ineffectually club the other side.

Do you know how we know this? Because baseball tried it a decade ago, and the effect was, well, howlingly funny.

Bud Selig leaped to his feet after the wildly successful 2001 World Series and said the economy of baseball was so bad that four teams might have to get got, as the kids like to say. And within seconds, Twins owner Carl Pohlad leaped to his feet and said, "Great! We get first dibs! Give me $250 million and you'll never see Kirby Puckett again!"

Quickly, the math was done: $250 million times four, that's a billion, divided by the 26 remaining teams, which comes out to $38,461,538.46 per team and ... oops, what happened to all those dying teams? Healed, every one. And you never heard the word "contraction" again, even when Bud tried to help the grandkids with their punctuation homework.

Not to mention the fact that two of the least performing teams in the NBA, New Jersey and Golden State, just sold for outrageous sums, meaning that somehow the league still has a supply of nitwit billionaires who want a part of what Stern describes in varying terms as a foundering ship.

In other words, the NBA isn't contracting. It can't afford to contract, and the more teams you want to contract, the bigger the nut the survivors have to kick in. If Memphis was a bad idea, well, Michael Heisley can just keep moving it until Hell (another potential expansion site, we're told) freezes over.

So why did Stern talk about contraction, and then basically call it a lie? Because he has just about given up the pretense of posturing effectively. He all but said that everything you hear between now and the day the deal is signed is a crock, and he just felt like the retiring magician who wants to show you how the lady gets sawed in half without ever having a scratch put on her.

In that case, swell. That was an entertaining little soliloquy, Dave. Tres d'une maniere amusante. You're a real card. Zach Galifianakis is racing to a hospital to have his splitting sides repaired.

As for anyone in Memphis, or Orlando or anywhere else where the fear of contraction rears its preposterous head, relax. That's just Uncle Dave, telling one of his whoppers, like the time he planted the flag on Iwo Jima two days before the other guys did just to show them when the ground was softest. Ignore him. That's how he gets, especially after a meal.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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