Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NBA's David Stern Separates the Personal & Professional

Jim Rome is host to a sports commentary program on ESPN. Today he interviewed NBA Commissioner David Stern. Stern is considered one of the most successful commissioners of a professional sports team in any sport at any time. Truly you can make a strong case for such an assertion by studying the profitability and popularity of professional basketball since he took over years ago.

As Rome brought the interview to a conclusion Stern brought up some of the exciting things that are on the horizon for the NBA. One of the things Stern mentioned was the NBA creating more of a presence and product in China. Rome quickly asked of Stern, “China doesn’t have the greatest record on human rights. Are you conflicted at all about bringing the NBA into China?”

David Stern paused, took a breath and then replied something like this, “Jim, I keep my personal beliefs about China separate from my professional responsibilities to my employers. Everyone else is doing the same. General Motors, Coca-Cola, etc. are all moving into the Chinese market and this is going to be very important to the future of the NBA.”

Stern’s separation of his personal beliefs and professional practices received no follow up from Rome at all. In fairness to Rome the program was about over and he simply thanked Stern for his time and gushed again about what a great commissioner Stern is.

I did a double take on Stern’s comments and then recalled hearing the same kind of line from several politicians just a few months ago.

A personal belief that doesn’t impact my professional decisions and practices is no belief at all. Someone who says they believe in honesty but their boss wants them to carry out dishonest practices for the sake of the business doesn’t really believe in honesty. He believes in expediency (I’ll do whatever I have to do) or relativism (sometimes it’s right to be honest, sometimes it’s wrong to be honest).

When beliefs are practiced personally and professionally, privately and publicly, that’s called INTEGRITY.

Sorry commissioner, congressman or CEO. You’re simply wrong and your character is lacking if you separate belief and practice.


Sam said...

I agree, but in the private sector it's frequently important to balance those things. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for suggesting it, but I think it's an important and necessary skill for executives.

I can choose to exercise my Christian beliefs, pray, and share openly... but once you start imposing those ideals on others in a publicly-held company, it becomes a very risky move. I'd like to think I'd make the choice to take the risk, but it's really a leap of faith to put your career on the line when you've got as much to lose as this guy. Especially if you don't really believe. My 2 cents.

Scott Brewer said...


Thanks for weighing in on the subject. I have a friend who worked for a major electronics company in our area. He became aware of corporate cheating taking place with his superiors and he was obviously faced with a dilemma.

Would he compromise his beliefs/convictions about honesty and not stealing, or would he take a stand. He took a stand, reported the cheating and quickly lost his job.

You're right, it's risky. My friend later said that the cost of compromising and looking the other way was too expensive because it would have cost him his integrity.

I'm not suggesting that we impose our beliefs on others as in matters of doctrine or practices such as prayer.

What I am saying is that most corporations have a set of core values with which most Christians can legitimately work such as honesty, excellence, fairness, commitment, dedication, loyalty, etc.

The NBA makes a big deal about treating athletes as humans with dignity and not various parts of an etertainment product. Yet, Stern is willing to cut a deal with a Chinese government that has a record of oppression of their own people. In my mind that is a lack of integrity.