David Stern has more than a little power, which is especially clear when players really break the rules.
After the unrestrained brawl known as "the Auburn Hills incident," for example, the fortunes of the Pacers and Pistons franchises and several players hung in the balance. Were there hearings to be had? Was there testimony? Is there a judge or a panel that metes out punishments in such cases? Are there published guidelines?
There is none of that. In that case, and in many other cases, the commissioner essentially has the right to punish players as he sees fit.
Artest was suspended for the season's remaining 73 games, and the Pacers have been in the doldrums ever since.
It's a collection of power that Billy Hunter and the players' association would like to discuss.
The two sides have settled the major issues that led to the lockout, and are taking the week or so to hammer out the so-called "B" issues.
Hunter said a couple of weeks ago that his list of "B" issues runs to six pages of "issues that are very important that we have yet to resolve."
Asked to name some of the issues on his "B" list Hunter first identified the league's age limit, and then named just one other: "commissioner discipline."
A source in the talks says that as of late Tuesday it has not been discussed, and the NBA is not eager to change its discipline system. But it is one more non-economic issue where players are no longer so willing to cede ground. Nobody wants to be treated like a child called into the principal's office -- the imbalance of power is fantastic. The effect is insulting to players, who drive the success of the game but have no recourse in matters of commissioner discipline. Humiliating.
Which raises another issue: In terms of their dignity, a lot of players have been openly annoyed by the off-court player dress code that -- in an odd nod to the perceptions of white middle America -- resulted from the fight at Auburn Hills. I wonder if Hunter's six pages of "B" issues includes any changes to that.