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Volume 24 No. 117
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NBA Lockout Watch, Day 112: Gumbel's Comments Draw Plenty Of Reactions

Bryant Gumbel's assertion that NBA Commissioner David Stern is a "modern plantation overseer" was one of the predominant issues on most sports-talk television shows yesterday. ESPN's J.A. Adande said while Stern can "come off as condescending at times, I think that Gumbel got it wrong." Adande: "He reached too far because actually, David Stern is the opposite. David Stern has been very conscious of trying to avoid coming off as a ‘plantation owner.’ He’s very aware of the racial dynamics that’s in play, when you have white ownership, when you have a white structure in the league and primarily black players.” Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said, "Bryant Gumbel is simply wrong. The David Stern I have observed since 1983 or thereabouts has been completely the opposite of the man he is trying to portray right now.” Stern has “gone out of his way over a two decade-plus period to praise these people as players and as men” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 10/19). Washington Post columnist Mike Wise said, "No commissioner in major American professional sports has been more forward-thinking, has included minorities more. ... If you’re going to nail somebody, don’t nail David Stern” (“Washington Post Live,” Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 10/19). Former NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said his “first reaction” upon hearing Gumbel’s comments was that Gumbel "obviously doesn’t know David Stern very well." Granik: "I don’t think these are the kind of characterizations that anybody that knows David well, including people on the other side table … would ever make.” ESPN's Chris Broussard said a lot of people around the NBA “think Bryant Gumbel went too far.” However, he added, “Some have told me that Stern does need to be careful about some of the things he says or does. Not that he means it in a racist way, but he can come off as insensitive and offend the African-American players” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 10/19).

DILUTING THE MESSAGE: ESPN’s Dan Le Batard said Gumbel “makes very good arguments," but he "dilutes them, he distracts from them, when he throws around inflammatory language like this." Le Batard: "This kind of language ends up making people on racial discussions just put their fists up. They don’t listen. They are caught in the minutae of arguing the … lack of nuance in ‘plantation owner’ and they don’t listen to the rest of the smart things that he actually had to say” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 10/19). Columnist Kevin Blackistone said, “The only problem with what he said was he used the phrase ‘plantation owner.’ When you use that phrase, it immediately clouds everybody’s view and they don’t see the forest for the trees, so they don’t understand what he’s talking about” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 10/19). ESPN’s Ric Bucher said the “basic reaction” to Gumbel’s comments was that it “was a misuse of words." Bucher: "The racial and racist overtones … was reckless and irresponsible and creates a scenario where you’re suggesting that David Stern -- I don’t know that there’s any way around it -- is a racist” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 10/19). ESPN's Skip Bayless said that to “infer that the commissioner is being racist here, I just think that’s out of bounds because I don’t think that’s fair to the track record of David Stern.” He added referring to slavery is "insulting to the blood that was shed in those days" ("First Take,” ESPN2, 10/20). The Wall Street Journal's Lee Hawkins said, "Don’t ever invoke slavery on the NBA. They’re not slaves” (“America’s Nightly Scoreboard,” Fox Business, 10/19). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said when you “use the word ‘plantation,’ you force people into such a defensive posture." Kornheiser: "Would (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman, who is doing the same thing to a bunch of white people, be accused of plantation mentality? Because it’s the same thing.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said he “would not have used that particular language," but he understood the sentiment. Wilbon: “This is a conversation that plays out every day in what I call the ‘black world’ … (because) black folks care about the NBA much more so than other cultures” (“PTI,” ESPN, 10/19).

: TRUE HOOP's Henry Abbott wrote Gumbel’s comment “matters, and not as an isolated attack on Stern.” It’s "important as a real subtext of the talks going on right now.” Abbott: “Since writing the other day that part of what’s motivating players is an urge to reconcile exploitative white owner/black player relations of the past, I have heard from any number of sources from the players’ side of the talks saying, essentially: ‘Exactly.’” Gumbel’s argument “might be an awkward one for the NBA, but it’s hardly one that can be ignored” (, 10/19). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote Gumbel “makes a fair point,” as his overall message was Stern “seems more interested in bashing and threatening the players and maintaining a controlling a hand over the league than solving the current lockout.” Gumbel also “suggested he knew using the words ‘plantation overseer’ would cause controversy." Jones: "He was right. Unfortunately, more attention is being placed on Gumbel’s inflammatory analogy than his actual point. That’s too bad because Gumbel’s point is worth a listen” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/20). YAHOO SPORTS’ Kelly Dwyer wrote it should be pointed out that Gumbel “isn’t calling NBA players ‘slaves,’ nor is he saying that Stern has been successful in turning the NBA into a plantation of sorts.” He’s just “pointed out that Stern, especially over the last decade, has gone out of his way to give a shrug of the shoulders to the otherwise fair-weather fans when things go wrong with the players his league employs” (, 10/19).

: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes the case Gumbel tried to make against Stern “was beyond weak.” The "only legs he had to stand on were his own perceptions.” Raissman: "Gumbel was looking to turn some heads here. A measured, clever approach wouldn’t seal the deal, so he dropped the bomb, turning over the race card on Stern” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/20). In Houston, Jonathan Feigen wrote, “While Stern has left himself wide open for criticism, Gumbel did not back up any of his charges with any of the sort of examples that fill the reports that fill the show before his closing remarks” (, 10/19). Democratic strategist Carl Jeffers said Gumbel “has his own agenda and the fact is he’s getting more play today” than since he left NBC's "Today" show ("America's Nightly Scoreboard," Fox Business, 10/19). In N.Y., Marc Berman reports Stern “declined comment yesterday" on Gumbel’s commentary. However, the comments “may not have helped the Players Association in the labor battle, because Gumbel’s remarks could be turning Stern into a more sympathetic figure” (N.Y. POST, 10/20).