By Tim Reynolds
NBA commissioner David Stern congratulated LeBron James on his decision. He just wishes it came without “The Decision.”
Stern said Monday he would have advised James to tell the Cleveland Cavaliers of his choice to leave for the Miami Heat earlier than he did, and that the two-time MVP’s public announcement shouldn’t have come in a made-for-television special that attracted nearly 10 million viewers.
The commissioner said James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh violated no league rules in discussing free agency among themselves, and that the league isn’t investigating how the Heat managed to land all three. That doesn’t mean Stern didn’t take issue with certain elements of free agency, particularly James’ decision to say he was leaving Cleveland on ESPN.
“The advice that he received on this was poor,” Stern said after NBA owners met in Las Vegas. “The performance was fine. His honesty and his integrity, I think, shined through. But this decision was ill-conceived.”
Meanwhile, Stern also took action against Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, fining him $100,000 for words that the commissioner described as “a little bit extreme.”
Gilbert released a sharp-tongued statement shortly after James’ announcement last Thursday, calling it “narcissistic” and “cowardly behavior.” Later, Gilbert told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he felt James quit on the Cavs during the playoffs the past two years.
Even Rev. Jesse Jackson received a rebuke of sorts from Stern.
Jackson responded to Gilbert’s remarks on Sunday by saying the Cavs owner sees James as a “runaway slave” and that Gilbert’s comments put the player in danger. “He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Jackson said in a release from his Chicago-based civil-rights group.
Stern said Jackson is a friend and ally to the league, but as with Gilbert, felt the reaction simply went too far.
“However well-meaning Jesse may be in the premise on this one, he is, as he rarely is, mistaken,” Stern said. “And I would have told him so had he called me before he issued his statement, rather than this morning. But he is a good friend of the NBA and our players. Has worked arduously on many good causes and we work together in many matters.”
James, Wade and Bosh all decided last week to play together in Miami, working out six-year deals after talking with each other at times throughout the free-agent process. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Sunday he wanted the NBA to examine how all three joined the same team.
But in the Monday meeting of the league’s Board of Governors, no formal complaints were levied, Stern said.
“Our players, having negotiated for the right to be free agents at some point in their career, are totally within their rights to seek employment with any other team,” Stern said. “That’s something we agreed to. That’s something we embrace. That’s our system.”
Further, Stern said James was “entitled” to make his move to South Florida. He also congratulated Miami for its free-agent approach.
“Miami did a pretty good job of clearing out cap space and putting together a plan,” Stern said.
One representative from each team met with Stern and NBA officials on Monday, where other conversations besides free agency included an update on the league’s labor deal, negotiations with the players’ association, and revenue sharing. Owners want a “much revised” system, Stern reiterated, while saying the union would like the present system to remain largely intact.
“Our finances are what they are,” said Stern, who added that the league lost about $370 million this past season.
The league will contact the union later this summer, “to continue our dialogue,” Stern said. The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire at the end of the 2010-11 season, and a lockout is possible on July 1.
“We are very anxious to make an agreement,” Stern said.