NBA's Glory Days Are Over

It was not a good week to be an NBA player, and not only because they're still demanding a "fair deal" on their $2.6 million annual salaries.

First there was Latrell Sprewell.

You remember him. Choker, though more off the court than on.

It seems the very-litigious Sprewell sued his agent, Arn Tellem.

Yes, some prayers are answered.

Tellem, who knows something about choking since he got choked during negotiations with then-Charlotte general manager Allan Bristow some years back, fought valiantly for Sprewell when the poor guy was suspended for attacking his coach.

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  • Tellem even suggested perhaps race was responsible for the harsh judgment, only to be ignored by players' chief Billy Hunter, a much more rational man.

    It seems putting his reputation on the line didn't matter to Sprewell, who sued Tellem for not having the foresight to have a clause inserted into Sprewell's contract protecting him from loss of pay should he attack any of his coaches.

    And there was Kenny Anderson, the point guard from New York City who seems to make as many stops as the D train. Now in Boston, Kenny suggested to The New York Times life was getting tough with paychecks being withheld and he might have to sell one of his eight luxury automobiles.

    After all, Kenny has expenses, like $250,000 for his marketing firm that doesn't bring in much revenue yet, but we're sure Kenny's buddies are getting by on their quarter of a million.

    This, of course, doesn't help the already fading image of NBA players, but it continues to create a growing problem for the NBA even a settlement of the lockout and new labor deal isn't going to solve.

    Latrell Sprewell Legal eagle Latrell Sprewell is not exactly doing wonders for the NBA's image. (AP)

    Who is going to like these players?

    It might finally mean the end of the NBA's golden age, and it's also why even in the throes of bitter negotiations, NBA commissioner David Stern hasn't gone negative, as the political people like to say.

    "You're not hearing us say things about the players being overpaid," says NBA commissioner David Stern. "People come up to me and say, 'The players make too much money.' I say, 'No they don't. They should get what the owners are able to pay them. Blame the owners. Not the players.' They're our product. We're going to have a business left to run (when the lockout is over)."

    And it's not going to be an easy business to run.

    Not just because of this lockout and the expected residual resentment from a work stoppage in sports.

    First, this is not Magic and Larry and Isiah and Michael not working and seeking bigger salaries.

    It's Allen Iverson and Sprewell, Chris Webber, Shawn Kemp, Isaiah Rider, Derrick Coleman, Alonzo Mourning, Cedric Ceballos and Anthony Mason.

    Sure, Jordan is still around and so are David Robinson, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.

    But they are at the end of their careers and sure to be gone within a few seasons.

    This fight is for the Iversons, Webbers and Kemps.

    And people don't like them.

    It's one thing to have Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or Larry Bird seek an exception or a record-breaking contract.

    You root for them over the owners. Because of the joy they brought you in watching them play and the way they played the game, so hard, so determined. But to see Iverson or Sprewell or Rider get millions is depressing.

    They miss games, get arresteD and their connection with the fns and the community is nonexistent.

    And they're African-American.

    So are Jordan and Johnson and Isiah Thomas.

    But it never seemed to matter.

    Perhaps the greatest achievement of NBA commissioner Stern was not selling the NBA, but selling a black sport to white America and white corporate America.

    The NBA's stars, virtually all black, became the most famous and most celebrated athletes in what the world generally regards as a racist country, the United States.

    Race and hate crimes continue, yet the most sought-after stars as corporate endorsers have come from the NBA.

    But will that continue?

    Stern is well aware of this problem.

    Generally, it's not good business to demean your product during a labor negotiation. Stern's product is NBA players, so he has to be careful.

    But ever more so now because of who they are.

    The problem the nba is facing as Jordan gets ready to fade away is not missing his presence as a player and winner, but his persona as a spokesman and personality.

    The NBA was considered a "black" game and not particularly popular in the 1970s with the first major influx of African-American players.

    That changed and no sports league prospered more in such a short time.

    The big test lies ahead: Can the NBA remain colorblind instead of being painted with the brush of popular outrage?

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