Who Exactly Is “The League” You Talk About?

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There is no single comment that gets me agitated more than when someone drops the catch-all “The League.”

You see it all the time. “The League wants this to happen…” or, “The League doesn’t like this…” It’s the best generalization phrase in all of basketball, as it can be used to assign blame, shift responsibility, cast doubt, validate a conspiracy or just about anything else.

Here is the problem with “The League” comments – who exactly is this the short cut for?

The Commissioner? While Adam Silver does wield a tremendous amount of power, it’s not as if he has magic levers in his office to manipulate the league. And Silver has people he answers to, namely the NBA Board of Governors.

It’s easy to say the Commissioner has his own goals and objectives, but he’ll be the first one to tell you how hard it is to get things done, even things he believes deeply about. The reason it’s hard to put the Commissioner in the driver’s chair is because he has many groups he has to navigate. The 30 individual teams. The TV partners. The 28 political markets his teams do business with every day. The international markets the NBA wants to do business with. The corporate sponsors. The Players Association. The Coaches Association. The Referees Association. To think in the digital age that the Commissioner can just do whatever he wants is very misplaced. If the Commissioner is viewed as playing favorites or manipulating the process for his own ends, how does that work with so many constituents to serve?

Is the Board of Governors, the ominous “The League”? This is a group of 30 power brokers that have their own agendas and motivations; in many cases they agree on things, but in most cases they do not. Board of Governor meetings are not the cigar smoke filled rooms you may imagine them to be. In most cases, these are tough environment to get a consensus from. Just look at how some things get voted on. Does anyone believe that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is going to sit on his hands and be railroaded into something he does not believe in and do it without a comment?

Ever wonder why the results of some of these Board of Governors meetings get out in the media so quickly? Some owners or governing executives grab the first reporter they trust and share what they heard, especially if it may be hurtful to their own agenda.

If the Board of Governors is whom people mean when they generically label “The League,” it’s far from a unified consensus with a singular thought or agenda.

So if “The League” is meant to be short code for the NBA corporate structure itself, there are more than 1,000 people who work for the NBA league office in more than 100 different job capacities and departments. Which group of those 1,000 plus people is guiding the needs and wants of a multi-billion organization?

Even if you boil it down to major department heads, are we saying that the course of the NBA is being guided by the Head of International television?

The problem with “The League” generalization is it’s usually the catch-all for things people cannot accurately describe. Rather than saying, “The six guys who may have the Commissioner’s ear whom I don’t know and don’t understand what they do,” it’s easier to say “The League.” It sounds more official that way.

The problem with the broad generalization of “The League” is it does not force anyone to be accountable for what follows next. It’s the catch-all usually used to mask a lack of facts and details. Who are you actually accusing or assigning blame to?

There is little doubt that there are politics to be played in the NBA. There are groups of people with agendas or specific needs, but to broadly assign blame to “The League” simply glosses over an understanding of whose needs are really being addressed and ignores exactly how big of an operation the NBA really is.

The NBA is way too large to have a singular set of needs and wants. There are too many groups within the power structure to think any one person or group of persons is truly guiding its direction, but that’s not nearly as interesting as the vague and formless “The League.”

So the next time someone drops a, “The League wants…” comment on you, stop them for a second and ask them to define exactly who they are talking about. Get specific. What you’ll usually find out, even from the most informed voices, is they really don’t know who they are really talking about. They are usually using the catch-all to reinforce an uninformed position or add credence to their own observation.

Try it out, you’ll be surprised how quickly many of the conspiracy theories about basketball unravel without a proper villain to blame things on.