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NBA's Stern face reveals different PR approach

by | CBSSports.com Columnist

We are not seeing the same level of media cheerleading for the resumption of the NBA season that we did during the NFL lockout, which tells you one of the more subtle but major differences between the commissioners of the two sports.

Roger Goodell spent more time finding and/or cultivating media people who either A) Were fearful of the idea of a missed season for financial or emotional reasons; or B) Just loved the access for access' sake.

David Stern, on the other hand, isn't really bothering with any of that at all. If Goodell is the aunt who talks you to death about doing the right thing because Jesus would want you to, Stern is the uncle who uses the belt.

Yes, there are serious and significant issues to be adjudicated here. The split between the owners in the NBA is (at least so far) more profound than that in the NFL, and the hardliners are more strident than their football brethren and sistren. The union, on the other hand, has the usual issues with player fervor and interest in the bigger picture, which makes them a tougher sell than the NFL players.

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The politics, in short, are fascinating, and will remain so.

But the PR choices of the two commissioners, who are essentially employees of the owners and therefore windows to their position, is also intriguing.

Remember when Goodell offered to work for a dollar through the lockout? It was a sham, of course, since he got the money he would have allegedly missed when the lockout ended anyway. Well, Stern said he would work for nothing back in February but hasn't said anything about it since, and given that his salary is at least twice Goodell's, one presumes he would make more of a thing about it.

Instead, not a peep. This isn't about looking noble and austere for Stern. It's about hammering out a deal because that's how his bosses want it administered -- with a hammer. And his audience is just the 30 guys who pay his God's-paycheck-plus-two-million, and they don't want him to seem generous with his own money, but instead ruthless with theirs.

And he is good at that. Over the past several years -- maybe even 10; you would have to check with Lt. Colonel Berger on that -- Stern has become more of an overt scold in public settings, less interested in winning and friends and influencing tape recorders than in delivering the law, chapter and verse, from his mouth to your ears.

And there's nothing wrong with that, at least if you're no longer trying to sway the audience. It's a stylistic choice, and that's all it is. So if you feel compelled to comment about how Stern treats the media, belt up. It's about why he does it, and why that matters, at least a bit.

Stern is not a fool, so he has decided this is the best way to handle the public requirements of his job, which is not the same as Goodell's job because he has different owners with different views and different circumstances.

The NFL makes molding the media mind a priority; Goodell sprang from the PR wing of the organization, and still will charm those he deems worthy of charm. Most are east of the Rockies ... well, the Mississippi ... well, the Hudson, actually ... but he does play that card with some deftness.

Stern broke in as a lawyer and likes the negotiating end, especially the combative parts. He won't be touring the country making the owners' case. He'll be in the room, trying to connect his knees with Billy Hunter's nethers. It's how he maintains his position with the owners, bringing their play to the field.

It's not better, or worse. It is what is, and it may help explain why there is less oh-my-God-what-will-we-do-without-the-NBA in the media than there was with the NFL. Maybe it's the knowledge that the NBA isn't as sold on opening its doors, or the fact that the media outlets don't need the NBA as a cash cow quite so much.

Or maybe David Stern has decided that because he's working for nothing, he doesn't have to schmooze as much? Nahhhhh.

He'll get the money back. Of course he will. He's just the uncle who likes to lead with the belt. That's all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.


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