Modern day slavery.
That is what HBO's Bryant Gumbel thinks of today's NBA, with Commissioner David Stern acting as the slave owner whipping his human property into perpetual indentured servitude.
Gumbel, the race-baiting impresario of the remarkably reported Real Sports program is at it again, choosing to liken our country's darkest past human rights violations with multimillionaires getting a slightly smaller piece of the pie. It is irrelevant to him that average families no longer can afford to attend games, but it does lead you to wonder how he is able to retain his bully pulpit to aim his verbal daggers at anyone who dares enter his vitriolic realm.
"(David) Stern's version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed," Gumbel opined. "But his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys."
Never mind that the average NBA salary is $5.15 million per season, a figure that 99.9 percent of the population will never see in a lifetime.
Never mind that when NBA players travel, they do so on private luxury charter jets, stay in five-diamond hotels, and eat at four-star restaurants as a matter of every day occurrence.
Never mind that the diamond encrusted wristwatch that Dwyane Wade wears could have paid for his entire four year tuition at Marquette had he chosen to stay.
When Gumbel, an African-American man, equates the most abhorrent, repugnant period of his race's history to pampered athletes that live in homes that are, ironically, the size of a plantation, you can almost feel his ancestors spinning in their graves in disgusted horror.
Slaves often times had to carry hundreds of pounds of water on their backs at a time. NBA players don't even have to carry their own duffel bags.
For some perspective, if you make, let's say, $50,000 annually at your job, it would take you more than 100 years to make what an average NBA player makes in one single season.
Let that sink for a moment. It makes you really feel for the plight of the "boys" David Stern is trying to keep down, doesn't it?
Obviously Gumbel, who has drawn a multimillion dollar salary himself for over 35 years while on network television, has completely lost sight of what is "real" and what is not. To lecture your audience about David Stern trying to restore financial sanity to a house that even you acknowledge is broken is akin to Bill Clinton lecturing Ashton Kutcher about marital fidelity.
The first rule of broadcasting is to analyze your audience. The viewers that watch Real Sports have a hard time accepting that young men in their 20's own a house that is as big as a city block, and have as many cars at one time as they will have in a lifetime. It isn't a black-or-white issue; it is an ungodly rich vs. middle-class issue.
But yeah...go with the slavery angle, there Bryant.
Since Gumbel has no sense of history, he would have no concept of a terrified small child being violently ripped from his shrieking mother against his will, handcuffed in rusty arm and leg chains, forced into the 100 degree hull of a ship that smells as foul as a sewer, and forced to help manually power that boat across the ocean for weeks; sometimes months.
If that child is lucky, he survives. Then again, perhaps the lucky ones died, for the horrors of what awaited them once they got to America were unfathomably worse than the excruciating ordeal they had just endured.
Forced into living conditions that housed dozens of human beings into one small poorly ventilated shack, the backbreaking labor began every morning when the sun came up and didn't end until it had set. As a way of controlling disgruntled workers who refused their assignment, slaves were routinely beaten to within an inch of their lives or were just killed outright in front of everyone to send a message.
Today, Kevin Garnett might have to hoc one of his Rolls Royces's to pay his gambling debt at The Palms.
So, yeah, it's pretty much the same thing.
How has Bryant Gumbel gotten this far, anyway?
Broadcasting is chocked full of insufferable personalities (insert your own joke here if you must). Whether it's Chris Berman exploding in anger over a production assistant accidentally making a peep only audible to him; or Bill O'Reilly dressing down a tape operator at the top of his lungs, the broadcasting business is filled with twits who think they are more important than they really are.
However, as entertaining as the Berman and O'Reilly outbursts are (thank you very much, YouTube) the stories of Gumbel's overblown sense of self-worth are legendary.
In 1989 he shredded his Today Show co-workers Gene Shalit and Willard Scott in an internal memo that embarrassed all concerned.
In 2000, Gumbel referred to one of his guests after an interview as a "f------ idiot" while the cameras were still rolling.
In 2006 he chided the almost 20 years of NFL labor peace with an open letter to new commissioner Roger Goodell.
"Before he cleans out his office have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps (NFLPA Executive Director) Gene Upshaw's leash," Gumbel said during his closing monologue on Real Sports. "By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted."
Never mind that those on both sides of the negotiating table didn't feel that way. Former Wisconsin Badger Troy Vincent, serving as the president of the players association characterized Gumbel's remarks as "inappropriate" and "detrimental."
This brings us to today.
All it takes is watching the final monologue of Real Sports to know that Bryant Gumbel is a sanctimonious blowhard. His segment is the lone blight on an otherwise brilliant television program.
The NBA is in a world of hurt. Yes, the owners have been guilty of letting it get out of hand. However, there will always be the desire to spend whatever it takes to pursue winning. This is not something that should be derided but rather praised.
However, as we have seen all-too often, the NBA has a small number of teams that can legitimately compete with that mentality; the rest might as well not even suit up a squad.
The Lakers and Mavericks are doing just fine. The Knicks and Spurs have been humming along for some time now. But you cannot have a league that consists of only six or seven teams that can contend. A level playing field benefits the greater good while not really impacting the ability of the rank-and-file to make a living that is still 100 times that of their average fan.
Likening the NBA to slavery is not only insulting to Bryant Gumbel's own ancestral history; it might be the single stupidest thing he has ever uttered.
And that is no small feat.
Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at OnMilwaukee.com.
Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.
Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.
Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.