SOBERING THOUGHT: The Warriors probably could have beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA Championship. Scary.

And if you dispute that, you know it's a slam dunk that the Phoenix Suns, the team that really should be on the cusp of winning it all tonight, definitely would have.

Instead, we have the San Antonio Spurs propped up once again for a continuation of their phony dynasty. Credit the Spurs for being ruthlessly efficient in achieving what everyone expected them to do, but let's be blunt: They're an uninteresting team about to win a tainted title, and America doesn't care.

David Stern, the man with the sickeningly smug smile, is drowning in his own arrogance right now. The NBA playoffs began as a fun-filled blast but are finishing now up a flat-lining bore.

Ever since the Warriors and Suns went out, the postseason has been dreadful, almost unwatchable theater. If it wasn't for LeBron James, trying so admirably to win the whole thing singlehandedly, we'd have switched over to the Home & Garden Channel long ago.

Ah, but at least Robert Horry will win his seventh ring after delivering the most infamousbodycheck in league history, the one that showed Stern's leadership of this league for what it really is — a hierarchy of haughtiness. so self-absorbed it is blind to the injustices and ills that afflict the league on a variety of fronts.

NBA fans who love the game should never let Stern forget May 14, when the Suns were so unfairly penalized for reacting to Horry's pathetic slam on Nash while the Suns were closing out a Game 4 win of the Western Conference semifinal in San Antonio.


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If it wasn't bad enough that the league meted out ridiculous one-game suspensions to Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw that wound up hurting Phoenix more than the Spurs, the pompous Stern went on the attack to defend the NBA's decision.

In a much-publicized interview with ESPN's Dan Patrick, Stern all but spat in Patrick's face when he dared to suggest the penalties were unfair. He resented even being challenged on it and taunted Patrick with insinuations that he was just being a troublemaker and didn't know what he was talking about.

But then the Spurs won Game 5 in Phoenix by three points, a game the Spurs almost certainly would have lost if Stoudamire and Diaw had played. Maybe San Antonio still might have won the series, but let's face it, the Spurs were facing two elimination games without homecourt advantage. Not likely.

Stern, of course, will hand over the trophy to the Spurs with that stupid smile and toast them as one of the great teams of all-time, if not tonight then some night soon. But it'll be a ruse of the commissioner's own creation.

I hate to be so hard on the Spurs because they play exquisite team basketball. They play terrific defense. They pass beautifully, post up masterfully. Tim Duncan is a future Hall of Famer, and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are superb, gritty players.

But it's all built on a foundation of good fortune that in any other league would amount to fraud. See, the Spurs never should have had Duncan. They got him as a result of another Stern sham, the lottery, by piling up losses in a year in which David Robinson was injured, then winning the lottery over the more "deserving" Boston Celtics.

Of course, the Celtics got hosed again in the most recent lottery disgrace, shut out of the top two franchise players, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

Welcome to King David's domain. The lottery came into being following Stern's rise to power in 1984 and has been an unjust carnival-act joke for much of its 22 years. But it remains because of Stern, and how dare anybody question any entity, however trumped-up, he presides over.

Stern has been hailed as a great commissioner by some, but beyond the financial growth of the league — which probably would have occurred for anyone riding the coattails of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and the explosion of the international game — it's tough to see.

The NBA is a league that has priced the average fan into the nosebleed seats, if they can even afford those. It is a league that used its financial clout to crush a promising women's winter circuit and create its own summertime farce. It is a league that has bastardized its rules almost beyond comprehension and allowed officiating consistency to deteriorate to an appalling level. Hey, nice arm-tackle on James by Bruce Bowen that concluded Game 3 Tuesday night to a no call. 

In a more well-run league, we might have had the Warriors and Suns in a scintillating Western Conference finals spectacle, but at the least, we should have had Nash and Phoenix. Unfortunately, the NBA cut off its nose to spite its self-satisfied face, if only to protect Stern's long out-of-control ego.

The only solace is that the commissioner's getting his just reward now — a bogus champion in an NBA Finals the nation has turned off out of disillusionment, disgust and disinterest. Nice going, Dave. Smile that autocratic smile for the cameras one more time, you charlatan.

Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at csteward@angnewspapers.com.