During an appearance on a panel at this week’s Beyond Sport Summit on sports and social activism, outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern took a shot at the International Olympic Committee for, essentially, being a bunch of fraidycats in their interactions with the Russian government about gay rights and the upcoming Sochi Olympics. Stern specifically alluded to new IOC President Thomas Bach’s first conversation with Vladimir Putin after being elected to the IOC top spot; Bach told reporters that he did not raise the issue of Russia’s anti-gay law during the conversation. From Philly.com:
“I’m gonna behave myself, for the record here, which is unlike me,” NBA commissioner David Stern said Wednesday, speaking as part of a panel that included Ed Rendell and was moderated by ESPN anchor and Philly native Kevin Negandhi. “But you know, the first phone call to the new head of the Olympics [was] from President [Vladimir] Putin, and everyone wants to talk about the Russian law on homosexuality. Think about the opportunities that sports have to make a continuing statement, and the only thing that we’re saying in that context is ‘Shhhh! No one say anything!’”
The Olympics have been good to the NBA: The 1992 Dream Team’s run through the Barcelona summer games kick-started the league’s effort to make itself an international presence. Last year, there were more than 80 players in the league from outside the United States. Meanwhile, some of the league’s biggest foreign markets are places where being openly gay is still considered unwise.
That David Stern would say something mischievous isn’t surprising — he’s stepping down as commissioner early next year and has always enjoyed goading opponents. He’s also a frequent donor to Democratic politicians. But he’s also been long criticized for forcing a bland corporate image on players to maintain the NBA’s mainstream palatability. And his successor at the league’s helm is a protégé, longtime Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. His choice to poke at an issue that’s sensitive to major NBA partners could be an auspicious development for LGBT rights advocates. As NBA franchise owners have long known, David Stern is a good person to have on your side of a fight.