Like clockwork, Stern sounds off with owners' interests in mind

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Reduced to a prop, David Stern passes along his bosses' message. (AP)  
Reduced to a prop, David Stern passes along his bosses' message. (AP)  

David Stern, Cuckoo Clock, just popped out and announced "first two weeks, first two weeks, first two weeks."

And he'll be out again in two weeks, for as long as the owners of the clock keep it wound.

Stern looked properly haggard when he announced that his employers had decided to devalue the season, but haggard can often be a nice prop. Fact is, he knew this day was coming long ago, and he made it clear on behalf of the owners for whom he toils that everyone else interested in the sport would know it as well.

So they got what they wanted, and they don't get to act surprised when they learn that a growing number of people don't really care.

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And maybe they're not surprised -- which would be an act of supreme disrespect, to create and foster a product they don't give enough of a damn to provide. That is clearly a notion with which they are apparently quite comfortable.

Stern's role is basic here. He follows the owners who are in the ascendant; he knows from his years on the job that the hardliners lead early, and the moderates are the ones who finish. But he sees that the moderates have not yet decided to take control of the room, so he plays hard-nose for as long as he must.

Then, when the circumstances change inside the owners' room, he pops out of the clock and emits a different noise. It's why taking Stern seriously at times like this is such an empty notion. He is at best the owners' mood ring, and at worst the owners' tell.

And you should not feel compelled to give a damn about Stern's tightroping one bit. For the moment, he has chosen the cynicism of his bosses, and because of that, it is all right not to give that damn.

Not giving that damn is in fact an important and liberating notion. To be told by multi-millionaire owners who have been living under the old rules for years that it is the players' fault that the owners cannot show self-control is a hilariously contemptible construct. In other words, it's a load of crap, because the owners have had that decade to figure out how to master the system, and either screwed it up anyway or are just trying to get the players to amortize their losses in other businesses.

Whatever the reason, they got theirs now -- no games, with the added benefit of reducing David Stern to a prop, like black smoke at the Vatican when a new pope has not yet been elected.

And maybe that's the secret here -- to remind everyone that owners can make everyone else bow to their whims pretty much on command. The players can be forced to take dramatically less? Sure. The audience can be made to beg for the games like football fans did? Jury's still out. David Stern can be whipped into whatever shape the owners need him in pretty much when they say? Oh, indubitably.

So he's popped out and cuckoo'd "First two weeks, first two weeks, first two weeks." On command, just as he will again for the foreseeable future. It's his job, and his bosses' way of saying they don't give a damn that you don't give a damn, so let's all agree not to give a damn together.

I guess that's what they call marketing.

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

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