THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Contraction: No baby's coming-- NBA teams are going

Stern's getting stern.

If NBA commissioner David Stern ever needed another job, he could apply to be president of France. Anybody with the guts to tell team owners and players that there may soon be fewer jobs to go around could raise France's retirement age from 62 to 70 without batting an eye. As Inigo Montoya would say, Stern "could plan my castle onslaught any day."

When collective bargaining talks begin later this year, Stern says, the elimination of NBA teams will be "on the table with the players as we look to see what's the optimum way to present our game, and are there cities and teams that cannot make it in the current economic environment."

In other words, bye-bye Memphis.

Should the word "contraction" really come as a surprise to anyone? Professional basketball is so money-oriented that even European soccer team owners say NBA players are paid too much. Wow. Considering this season's salary cap is over $56 million per team, and coaches make (on average) $3.4 million, combined with arenas, advertising, travel and the thousands of other expenses teams incur, is it any wonder the NBA is in financial trouble?

Stern has said he will try to effect a reduction in player costs (currently $2.1 billion) by about a third, which adds up quite a chunk of change: $750-$800 million. But even such a drastic cut won't be enough to make the NBA profitable. And where the rubber meets the road, teams may have to go.

Layoffs are awful, but when annual league losses total over $30 million per team, and 57 percent of NBA income goes directly to the players, is there a better solution?  When Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett makes $20 million, it means the

poor schmucks in Sacramento have to pay the price. 

Would LeBron James rather keep his salary ($45,780,000, in case you're wondering) or keep the Memphis Grizzlies in business? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Stern may be NBA commissioner, but that doesn't mean he has total control of the NBA. I hope he knows what he will be up against when he sits down with the players union at the collective bargaining table later this year. Frankly, it would be much less painful to dissolve a second- or third-tier team than try to take money from the likes of LeBron James. If Stern believes star players want to cut their salaries voluntarily to keep NBA teams alive, he's not the president of France I thought he was.


And now a word on the NFL's "new" policy regarding helmet-to-helmet contact. Talk about short shrift. As long as suspensions aren't mandatory, the NFL is giving tacit approval to such violent hits. If the NFL were as serious as they claim about stopping the skull-crushing collisions we saw October 17, they would punish any and all helmet-led-tackles (not just helmet-to-helmet contact) with at least two suspensions, forget about fines. If there were any question about whether the helmet-lead had been intended, it could be determined in about 15 seconds of review– 15 seconds that could change football and make it infinitely safer for everyone.

Last Thursday, Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis said the new fines hurt the game. "Your brain, you don't want to mess with that. I think you're aware, but at the same time this is what you do, so you take that risk. I feel like if it meant that much, we wouldn't play," he said. Sounds like the reasoning of a man who's had one too many concussions (he's been diagnosed with two).

In 1905 Teddy Roosevelt, the most physically rugged of American presidents, almost banned football altogether due to the violence and bloodlust that permeated the game. Even he, who believed in the value of physical roughness, found football too brutal. 

He did away with dangerous gang tackles and flying wedges. Football emerged from the Roosevelt years a much safer game, and it's still around. So much for the "safer equals boring" theory. If only old Teddy were alive today.


Juanita Giles lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son and many dogs.