When I opened up my morning (electronic) paper the other day, I caught the NBA and NHL commenting on the state of their respective leagues.
As any Raptors fan knows, the NHL has and always will be the dominate league in the Greater Toronto Area, but what has always been interesting to me is how both of these commissioners have always seemed as different as night and day despite coming from a similar background.
You see, I've always viewed David Stern as a commissioner who has tried to push the league forward with a steady and tough hand. He's been the kind of commissioner that understands the value of his players and has always seemed to reach out to them despite having a labour work stoppage and some hard and difficult relocations happen within his league. When Stern wanted to implement a dress code, it caused problems with some but now, everyone does it without a second thought and players like LeBron James make the cover of GQ magazine. Fans in Vancouver, Seattle, and Charlotte may look at Stern with some disdain, but relocations are never things of beauty and the reasonings behind the movement of teams has always left fans out in the cold.
Nevertheless, Stern has never tried to sell me a Chevy Nova by calling it a Benz.
Gary Bettman, on the other hand, is a commissioner who cut his teeth in the NBA. A former general legal counsel and senior vice president, Bettman has been a commissioner who has always filled his league with smoke screens. How bad was the situation in Phoenix earlier this year? Just take a look at an interview performed with Bettman during a game earlier this year between the Coyotes and the Red Wings where he flatly denies that any problems will arise later on in the year. Of course, now that some time has passed, we know differently.
So it comes as no surprise that both commissioners have painted opposite pictures despite the same sagging economy in the United States.
On the one hand, Stern has braced the public for a salary cap that will continue to dip down and fall. We've been told for months already that despite the small dip in the cap this year, next year may see an even larger drop in the cap. Stern has even gone so far to warn the public that this drop may be continual and may get even worse within the next few years, possibly moving the cap down to $50.4 million (USD). In preparing the public and allowing his owners to disclose their financial situations, he has established some credibility and trust about his words and actions. For us fans, it allows us to figure out what contracts can cause problems within the next few years and what might happen with the next CBA negotiation scheduled for 2011. In fact, Stern has gone so far to state that less than half of his teams listed a profit for the 2008-2009 season.
And on the NHL side?
Well, it seems like everything is a bed of roses for Gary Bettman. Talking about "record attendance" and weathering the economic situation "well", the NHL seems content to bask in its own hyperbole. With a salary cap that actually increased over the past year, many are left scratching their heads as the economic situation of the NHL seems to be in direct contradiction of the actual real world situation. With the Islanders, Coyotes, Thrashers, Panthers, and Lightning all in difficult financial situations where the teams might go bankrupt, Bettman has continued to propose to the public that the game is healthy and strong, with little need for concern. Bettman also often states that attendance has continually increased in the league without ever stating that many of the troubled teams actually have to give away their tickets in order to bring people into their arenas.
All of which makes me thankful that I'm a basketball fan.