All-Sanctioned Team: Players, coaches and a mascot that drew David Stern’s ire
Coach: Gregg Popovich, Spurs
Unlike Cuban, who stands without peer among the ownership ranks when it comes to fines, there are a number of worthy candidates for the All-Sanctioned Team’s coaching spot.
Let’s start with perhaps the two most amusing: the Van Gundy brothers. Both had memorable run-ins with Stern over treatment of their respective centers.
Back in 2005, Jeff Van Gundy, then coaching the Rockets, drew a $100,000 fine from Stern for telling reporters that a referee had called to inform him that the officials were targeting Yao Ming during a playoff series against the Mavericks because Cuban had complained so much. In addition to the six-figure fine, Stern stated that Van Gundy was “not going to continue in this league” if he continued to make similar comments.
History repeated itself in 2011 when Stan Van Gundy, then coaching the Magic, was fined $35,000 for saying referees were targeting Dwight Howard, before he took a personal shot at the commissioner a few months later. “This is the system David Stern and his minions like,” Van Gundy said. “I certainly can’t have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we’ve seen in this world lately, don’t really tolerate other people’s opinion or free speech or anything. So I’m not really allowed to have an opinion.” The comments were made during the so-called “Arab Spring,” when a number of revolutions and protests were going on in the Middle East and North Africa.
Those comments somehow didn’t draw a fine, but Stern did say that Magic management needed to “rein in [Van Gundy's] aberrant behavior,” that Van Gundy seemed to be “fraying,” and that “we’re not going to be hearing from [Van Gundy] for the rest of the season.” Last year, Van Gundy asserted that Stern blocked him from getting a commentating job at ESPN: “There’s no question the comments I’ve made about David Stern kept them from hiring me. I said things that pissed him off.”
So, if you’re keeping track, that’s one brother who was threatened by Stern with a ban from the league and another brother who believes his job prospects were influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Stern.
And yet neither Jeff Van Gundy nor Stan Van Gundy takes home top honors here thanks to an unforgettable confrontation between Stern and Gregg Popovich last season. When San Antonio’s Hall of Fame coach elected to rest four key players during a nationally-televised game against Miami — going so far as to send them home to Texas early — Stern responded immediately and with force, calling the decision “unacceptable,” promising “substantial sanctions” and following through with a monster $250,000 fine for the Spurs.
That fine set off national debates about the value of strategic resting, what should take precedent when a coach’s priorities conflict with those of the league office, and the role that the league’s television contracts and advertising partners played in guiding the commissioner’s decision. Those “substantial sanctions” also drew questions because Silver had previously said that strategic resting was “within the discretion of the teams,” because Popovich had previously rested players without drawing any fine, and because it was a particularly logical time schedule-wise to rest players (San Antonio was at the end of a long road trip with a key divisional game coming up).
Ultimately, Stern justified his fine by arguing that the Spurs “did a disservice to the league and its fans” and acted “contrary to the best interests of the NBA” because they hadn’t given adequate notice of their plans, because it was their only regular season visit to Miami, and because Danny Green, who was 25 at the time, didn’t need to rest for strategic purposes. “It was a game that was being played [by Popovich]. I know it, you know it and he knows it,” Stern said, once the dust settled.
The two men appear to have reached a compromise: Popovich continues to rest his key players, even for nationally-televised games, but the Spurs gave the league extra notice when they did so earlier this season. Still, the Popovich episode stands as a low moment for Stern because it came off as impulsive, contradictory, lacking in precedent and overly focused on the small picture. San Antonio’s unique ability to extend the career arcs of its stars has paid off in countless playoff victories, fantastic moments, and one of the greatest Finals of all time (2013). Their outside-the-box philosophy should stand as a template for the other 29 teams, not as a source for a massive penalty.
On a lighter note, Stern’s NBA also fined Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle $35,000 for kicking a basketball into the baseline stands in 2012. Check out his form:
And on one of the lightest disciplinary notes in league history, the NBA fined Nets coach Jason Kidd $50,000 for instructing his player to “hit me” so that he would spill soda on the court, thereby stopping the game so he could diagram a last-minute play.