According to one account, a flare-up between David Stern and Gregg Popovich has been a long time coming.
Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski has been one of David Stern's most consistent and harshest critics over recent years. It will not surprise you to find out he has a unique position on what led to Stern's massive $250,000 fine on Gregg Popovich's Spurs announced Friday. Woj's thesis: the two sides have been at odds for a long time, and the cold war finally caught a spark.
A brief excerpt, though I encourage you to go read the whole thing:
"The emperor of the NBA wasn't standing up for the fan on Thursday night, but settling an old score on his way out of office, on his way to a February 1, 2014, retirement date that suddenly seems so far away. Even within a league that would've never imagined the core of the Spurs dynasty could stay on top longer than the commissioner who wished them away, the expiration date on the emperor still feels so far away. Nevertheless, make no mistake: David Stern wanted these players gone all the way until Thursday night, all the way until they became convenient devices for his failed culture war on the San Antonio Spurs."
The reports (to my knowledge original and previously unpublished, and all anonymously sourced) Woj uses to bolster the case include that Stu Jackson once called Bruce Bowen directly (instead of using team channels) to warn of sanctions for certain defensive tricks in his bag, and that a league P.R. person once (unsuccessfully) tried to persuade a team owner from hiring a general manager from the Spurs' front office, apparently fearing that Popovichdom would spread. There's also a previously reported mention of how Stern's close ally Jerry Colangelo publicly embarrassed Popovich in explaining why he chose Mike Krzyzewski as Team USA's head coach.
I don't for one second doubt Woj's reports or that there is lingering distaste between Stern and Popovich. But I'm going to trust that this is all a bit more simple: Stern wanted to set an example that this type of mass benching for a national TV game is Not Okay. No other coach but Pop does this. And Stern wants to make sure that not only does Pop no longer do it, but that no other coach gets the idea to do it. It looks like a deterrent, and in his statement Stern mentioned that this has been discussed at league meetings in the past (Pop has done stuff like this in the past, though not for national TV games). Maybe Stern put a little extra mustard on it because of the lack of love between he and Pop. But I have trouble believing the sanctions stem totally from a long simmering cold war between the two.
And if it did, why doesn't Pop deserve some blame for firing that hot missile on Thursday? Let's not pretend he's too naive to know yanking his top four players would upset the league office. Pop is brilliant. He just doesn't care what Stern's office thinks. He does what's best for his team. In this case, that meants setting off a firestorm. If this has been brewing for years, how can you absolve Pop of blame for the result?
This continues to be the most strangely compelling controversy of the young NBA season.