NBA Commissioner David Stern had a testy, uncomfortable exchange with Jim Rome of CBS Sports in a radio interview today. On the topic of last month's NBA draft lottery, Rome asked this pointed question of Stern:
"New Orleans won the draft lottery, which of course produced the usual round of speculation that the lottery was fixed. I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy. Was the fix in for the lottery?"
(Deadspin has the audio here.)
Stern's response: "I have two answers for that. I'll give you the easy one: no."
He had the opportunity at that point to list all the reasons the lottery conspiracy theories are asinine, since it was essentially a softball question from Rome, but instead Stern lost his cool and chose to attack Rome personally.
He continued, "and a statement: shame on you for asking."
More after the jump.
Rome replied: "I know you think it's ridiculous, but I don't think the question is ridiculous because I know people think that."
It's hard to disagree there; the day after the draft lottery, the "it was fixed" was all over the interwebs on blogs such as this one. There's a good percentage of NBA fans who sincerely believe the lottery was fixed to give the #1 pick (and prized prospect Anthony Davis) to the still league-owned New Orleans Hornets, or who at least think the possibility exists that it was fixed.
Stern then dropped the ultimate stink bomb: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Of course, Stern was implying that Rome's question was loaded (it wasn't) but to some listeners I'm sure it came across that Stern was literally accusing Rome of domestic abuse.
The rest of the interview was a bit of a wash because they both took umbrage at perceived insults from the other. Here's the difference: Rome is a radio talk show host known for stirring the pot. For those of us old enough to remember, he burst on to the national scene with this childish insult of former NFL QB Jim Everett. Stage hands prevented Everett from rearranging Rome's face but, if any publicity is good publicity, the antics probably helped Rome's career.
If you go on Rome's show to be interviewed, it seems reasonable to expect that he's going to try to needle and probe and ask questions to provoke a strong response. Stern made two mistakes: one, he lost his cool and came across as the childish, graceless one of the two. Not an easy task when compared to Rome, and unbecoming of an executive.
More importantly, while Stern might have thought the question of whether the lottery was fixed was beneath him and not worthy of a response, Rome was correct in saying that it's a prevalent belief among a large slice of his league's fanbase.
As for Rome, the question was either a softball or just plain silly. How did he expect Stern to reply? Did he think there was any chance at all Stern would cop to any wrongdoing? Of course he wasn't going to. More likely, I think he was attempting to give Stern the chance to emphatically denounce any suggestion of a fixed lottery. Instead, Stern got into a pissing match with an interviewer who thrives on such things.
Is it possible that Stern's public relations skills are continuing to get even worse as he ages?