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The Combative Commissioner (and a theory)

NBA Commissioner David Stern and National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter were on Capitol Hill again Thursday, and took heat for the league's "pathetic" steroid testing policy.

The politicians have a point. The league basically does not test the vast majority of players during the vast majority of the season.

Stern showed his lawyer mettle, though, by somehow managing to win the key squabble. As described by The New York Times:

The most heated exchange occurred after Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts, asked why the N.B.A., "given the connection between aggressive behavior and steroid use and your policies," did not test the players on the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers who were involved in a fight with each other and fans in November.

"You don't know - you don't test the players," Lynch said of the N.B.A.'s failure to determine whether steroid use played in role.

Stern told Lynch that just because the league did not know for sure if the players involved had used steroids, that did not mean that they were guilty of taking them.

"And the reality is," Stern added, "it worries me greatly if the absence of testing for any body - including the members of Congress - would somehow be used to say, 'Well, if you don't have it, that's proof that it must exist,' and then referring to a policy as pathetic.

"On behalf of the players of the National Basketball Association, I would like to say that the guilt you seek to attribute to them on the basis of this policy is ill-taken and very unfair."

One second it's drug-addled millionaires free-swinging at fans. The next it's politicians in the ivory tower dumping on the working man. David Stern's so effective, they should test him for performance enhancing drugs.

On a related note: have you noticed that the league and union were getting along swimmingly until this whole steroid thing came up? The timing is too weird, and the evil schemer in my head has cooked up a theory.

It goes like this: Commissioner Stern needed to look like he was tough on steroids during his D.C. testimony. But neither the league nor the players' union really wants all those drug tests--if they did, they would have been in place long ago. It's not like drugs are new. (And besides, Congress is likely to force a certain amount of testing anyway. Why volunteer for more of the bad press that comes with positive drug tests?)

So, the commissioner goes to Capitol Hill and says the league is after this, that, and the other thing in the name of stamping out steroids and being good role models for the children of America, etc. But at the same time, he cranks up the hand-wringing about how the contract negotiations have suddenly gotten really, really tough. He used the word "despairing" yesterday. The word "lockout" has been thrown around.

And then... when the league and the union reach a deal in a few weeks or months that does not include super-tough drug-testing, everyone gets to say: "Gosh, these were some really ornery negotiations. We almost had a lockout! Everyone had to give up something that was really important to them, and sadly the league had to give up the drug testing program that we really wanted so badly."