Benner/Sports and Colts and NASCAR and Lucas Oil Stadium and Pacers and Layoffs and Employment and Professional Athletes and NBA and Sports Business

Stern's definition of 'golden age' is laughable

February 23, 2009

Of this, that and the other while wondering if NBA Commissioner David Stern had just taken a hit off Michael Phelps' bong when he proclaimed this to be "the golden age of basketball" during his all-star weekend news conference in Phoenix.

OK, perhaps the marijuana reference is a little harsh, but the golden age of basketball? Are you kidding me?

Revenue is dropping and there are reports that as many as 15 teams—including the Indiana Pacers, of course—are losing money. Even though the NBA has virtually disappeared from network television, Stern cites rising ratings on ESPN, TNT and in local packages. Perhaps that's because more and more fans are forced to stay home and watch games on the tube.

Labor strife looms on the horizon, even though Stern and players' association chief Billy Hunter made nice during the weekend festivities. I simply can't fathom that the NBA and many of its owners can sustain anything close to the current economic model without the eventual loss of franchises, especially in the smaller markets.

And, yes, my fear is that the Pacers might be among them, although I believe the Simons, especially Herb, would go to the wall to prevent that from happening.

Anyway, this is why Stern thinks it's the golden age: because the Lakers and Celtics are back on top and his beloved Knicks are turning the corner under Donnie Walsh's leadership. That's enough to put rose tint on Stern's glasses.

Sorry, I've never liked the guy because I'm not a big fan of arrogance.

And while I'm at it, it's certainly not the golden age of basketball with the game itself. The influx of too-young players has simultaneously hurt both the pro and college games. AAU and summer leagues have corrupted youth play. Meanwhile, at all levels, physicality rules, defense dominates, the pull-up and mid-range jump shots are lost arts, and basic skills deteriorate.

I love basketball, which is why I detest what's happened to it.

Back to the Pacers, who deserve credit for their bold move in across-the-board ticket-price reductions for next season. That's yet another sign the franchise is willing to do whatever it can to re-engage its fan base and acknowledge the pressures of the current economy. No surprise with Jim Morris at the helm.

The Pacers' announcement came just a few days after the Indianapolis Colts announced they were going the other direction, raising prices on some seats in Lucas Oil Stadium. With the move into LOS, Colts revenue never has been greater yet officials have laid off 25 front-office employees and hiked ticket prices. Curious, to say the least.

Moving on ... once upon a time, the NBA had the Jordan Rules to protect Michael Jordan from being whistled for traveling, palming or fouling out. NASCAR is following suit, sheltering its most valuable commodity with the Junior Rules.

That meant ultra-popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. could cause a multi-car wreck in the Daytona 500 without fear of being penalized for "rough driving." Had that been one of NASCAR's lesser lights, he would have been pulled into the pits.

What a joke, especially when Junior already was a lap down. But NASCAR wouldn't dare take down Junior. Besides, it excels because of its ability to create heroes and villains.

Not unlike professional wrestling.

One of my favorite quarterly reads is the Indiana History Basketball Magazine, published by the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. In the current issue, author Emerson Houck enlightens readers about the term "barn burner." It seems little Wingate, state champion in 1913 and 1914 and led by the legendary Homer Stonebreaker, played its games in a barn (it's still there today) that was heated by wood-burning stoves.

"Players ran the risk of knocking the stoves over in the course of close games, a considerable danger in a wooden barn," Houck writes. "Hence, the term 'barn burner' to describe close games was particularly relevant."

And now you know. Or at least I do.

Finally, the NFL's Scouting Combine is in Indianapolis, filling 13 hotels, depositing about $5 million into the economy, and spreading the Indianapolis dateline around the country. I'm glad it's here ... but not nearly as glad as the proprietors of every steakhouse downtown.
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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www. ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com. 

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