"Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" -- NBA Commissioner David Stern in what I hope was a rhetorical question to Jim Rome, 6/13/12
Since the first NBA Draft Lottery in 1985 gift-wrapped Patrick Ewing to the downtrodden New York Knicks, there have been conspiracy theorists galore that have surmised that somehow commissioner David Stern is manipulating the results of the draft lottery each season.
Through the years, a few of the other lotteries have produced similar curious results, as in 1993 when a Shaquille O'Neal-led Orlando Magic won the first pick for the second consecutive year with the longest odds on the board (a pick they flipped for Penny Hardaway and multiple first-round picks) and 2008 when Chicago parlayed an 8 percent chance of winning into the first pick (Derrick Rose, from, of all places, get ready for it...CHICAGO!).
Of course, if the commish is fixing the lottery, most seasons he's doing a shitty job of it. How else do you explain non-major markets like Milwaukee, Toronto, Charlotte (back when they were the Hornets) and San Antonio among others winning the thing so many times?
Still, when the New Orleans Hornets won the 2012 lottery, it sparked another round of fierce accusations of fixing. The Hornets have been owned by the league itself for the last couple years, and recently found a buyer in New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. The conspiracy theory after this May's lottery went like this: Benson agreed to buy the Hornets and keep them in the Big Easy on a promise from Stern that he would be handed the number one pick in the draft (and the dynamic Anthony Davis of Kentucky).
If this were an HBO drama, the theory would make for a fascinating story line. As it is, it's a monster reach to think that Stern could coordinate that many moving parts (not to mention several dozen ping-pong balls) into a seamless ruse on the rest of the league.
Still, this didn't stop nationally syndicated talk show host (and friend of my radio program) Jim Rome from directly asking Stern on his show today if the lottery was fixed:
New Orleans won the draft lottery, which of course produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed, I know you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy; was the fix in for the lottery?
The commissioner, apparently not as fond of conspiracy theories as Rome had thought, fired back curtly:
I have two answers for that -- I'll give you the easy one, NO. And shame on you for asking.
It was at this point that Stern posed the metaphorical question to Rome, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" not because Rome likes to unwind after a hard day with a Bombay Sapphire and a round of speed bag to his wife Janet's head, but seemingly to illustrate the ludicrousness of Rome's question. (It is not clear at this time if Stern's "wife-beating" question was thought to be ridiculous because Rome is not a wife beater or because if Rome got into a fight, perhaps his wife could take him. Unfortunately, that follow-up question was never asked.)
From there, it turned into a barrage of sarcastic barbs from Stern, cold haymakers that were soaked in disdain for a radio host that Stern clearly thought was trying to stir the post for the sake of stirring it. Among them:
"That's not a question that I've been asked before by a respectable journalist."
"It's good copy and you do things sometime for cheap thrills."
"Jim Rome is pouting, I love it."
And then came Stern's finishing maneuver, the "Stephen A Is Better Than You":
"I got to go call someone important like Stephen A Smith right now. He's up next."
OUCH. 1, 2, 3. Ding..ding...ding. Rome spent the balance of his program talking about the disrespect he felt from Stern, and reading tweets from the portion of his listener universe that supported him and hated Stern. The interview ended so contentiously that in the back of Rome's head, he had to be wondering if he'd stumbled into his next "Everett moment":
Minus the table flip and narrowly avoided maiming, of course.
As for my two cents on this "incident" -- far be it from me to critique Rome's interview style. Say what you will about the metamorphosis of his show over the last few years, but he is still one of the best interviewers in the business. But the question to Stern about "the fix" was just poorly worded and as clumsy and awkward to listen to as it is in transcript.
As part of his follow-up to Stern's retort, Rome was clear that he didn't like asking questions with wording beginning with phrases like "people are saying..." I get that. Too often, radio hosts ask questions in an annoying, indirect fashion as if they are asking it on behalf of some other faction to keep a conversation from getting confrontational. Rome wasn't expecting any answer other than "No" to his question, but he was hoping that it would be a "No" with an air-clearing explanation for why it's silly to think the lottery is fixed.
Why Rome would think that one of the thinnest-skinned, quietly confrontational authority figures in sports would see "Was the fix in?" as anything other than a swipe at his integrity, I have no idea. If Rome was looking for conspiracy theory-busting clarifications from Stern, he needed to lead him there and ask about the process of the lottery, how the drawing works and who is in the room. I'm always curious why they have a process so intricate, they feel the need to conduct it off-air, or why they don't record it and post the video of it after the fact. Questioning about the process itself would have kept Rome's wife out of the conversation.
Asking if the "fix was in," well, it didn't. That said, if Rome wanted to get people talking about his show, then it worked. "Jim Rome" was the top trending topic on Twitter right after the interview ended, which could be what he wanted all along.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.