Bad bosses are a fact of life in just about any line of work, but the difference between the Blimpie manager who keeps giving you shit because you don’t want to wear those dorky plastic gloves and, say, Donald Sterling is more than a question of magnitude. For one thing, you really should wear those gloves, it’s gross — that’s why no one goes to Blimpie. For another, though, the NBA’s most nightmarish owners — Sterling, Michael Heisley, James Dolan, the sentient and bigoted boiled ham that is Clay Bennett and Bruce Ratner, the upward-failing ex-owner and destroyer of the New Jersey Nets — seem, on balance, to be worse dudes than the benighted middle manager types who do most of the nation’s ball-busting.
Which isn’t to say that those benighted middle managers might not become the oleaginous parody of Los Angeles excess that Donald Sterling is, if they had the opportunity and bankroll. It’s just that the worst NBA owners, who have been granted the opportunity to commit macro-scale crimes against decency by their position and power, consistently make those choices — they’re small-minded small-town bigots that lie to cities and steal their teams or monsters of world-historical vainglory and idiocy; they preside over vast slumlord empires and engage in sexual harassment as a matter of course; they tell shameless fibs in advancing wholly fraudulent real estate projects (before selling their teams to guys who do business with dictators) and bellow their own venal ignorance without fear of comeuppance or embarrassment or anything else. This is in part because billionaires (buckle up) have it pretty good when it comes to comeuppance in America circa now. But it’s also because the people we’re talking about are assholes.
How does this manifest itself on the teams they own? It depends. Clay Bennett shows all appearances of being a pretty terrible guy, but he has given his savvy GM a lot of leeway to build a team that is disarmingly/alarmingly likable. The Grizzlies are weird, and entirely too dependent on Zach Randolph for anyone’s comfort, but the ultra-maligned Chris Wallace has quietly put together a pretty decent and likable-enough team, Z-Bo aside. But the human pollution that is James Dolan, Bruce Ratner and Donald Sterling seems to have had some serious downstream effects on their organizations, creating NBA Superfund sites where there should be valuable and competitive franchises. Because the Clippers have a super-talented team — a half-decade of high lottery picks will do that — there’s some hope, there, even with Sterling’s cologne-smelling skeeve-cloud blotting out the sun. The Nets, on the other hand, seem likably to be cleaning up the ethical and organizational mess Ratner created for years to come. (The Knicks are exhausting, and I’m going to sit that one out)
I’ve written a lot, here and elsewhere, about Brett Yormark, the poisonous but apparently untouchable anti-genius behind the Nets’ noxious rebranding during the Ratner era. Cynical, self-amused and prickly by turn, Yormark is first and foremost pretty bad at his job — the Nets are unlovable and largely unloved, and look likely to once again rank among the NBA’s worst teams after winning just 12 games last year. The last point, you might argue, isn’t so much Yormark’s fault as it was that of Rod Thorn, the team’s GM during the era in which the Nets furiously stripped assets and salary, attempted to leverage the useless sub-Radmanovic forward Yi Jianlin into a greater presence in the Chinese marketplace, and managed to hemorrhage money all the while. Thorn can’t be blamed for the Yi deal — he never evinced any real excitement about swapping Richard Jefferson for Bobby Simmons’ crummy contract and Yi’s defective Yi — but the buck has to stop somewhere in the vicinity of his office, you’d think.
It might just be a case of a veteran NBA writer sticking up for a universally respected NBA personality, but something Peter Vecsey wrote earlier this week would suggest that Yormark might actually deserve some blame for this as well. In what might be the least surprising bit of news to emerge during the offseason, Vecsey writes that Yormark (above, far right) took it upon himself to antagonize, alienate and undermine Thorn in a public gaslighting campaign of a full-spectrum dickiness that’s downright Dolan-ian.
Yormark had gotten down on Thorn down the stretch, feeling he’d gotten lazy and done a poor job. Though unable to talk Bruce Ratner into firing him (the master plan was to rehire friend John Calipari and re-position him on the sidelines with complete power regarding personnel), Brett had no problem undermining Rod.
There was persistent friction between the two executives. “Yormark was Ratner’s go-to guy for everything,” said someone in the know. “They’d speak 30 times a day. Whenever Thorn wanted to do something of substance he’d reach out to Ratner who’d immediately run it by Yormark.”
According to past and present team employees, regardless whether or not Yormark endorsed Thorn’s idea, a proposed trade, signing, whatever, was soon in the newspapers and/or on the air. “Brett is the Nets’ chief leak,” maintains one and all.
“I don’t deny my dislike for the guy,” Thorn admitted last Friday when asked by phone about their contentious relationship. “But he’s not the reason I left.”
And where was the owner while his two highest-paid non-players were locked in team-destroying combat? Probably in China, where the reliably pelf-chasing Ratner has been trying to take advantage of a little-publicized bit of immigration law in an attempt to, as the Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder writes, find “498 Chinese millionaires, to supply $249 million in low-cost financing for the [Atlantic Yards arena] project.” And why, the since-departed Yi notwithstanding, would these millionaires put up all that money? “In exchange for creating ten direct or indirect jobs or retaining ten direct ones–a formulation that offers enormous wiggle room–the investors would get permanent residency for themselves and their families, a chance to live anywhere in America, and an opportunity to get kids educated in the American system.”
Neil deMause puts it in further context at Field of Schemes, but the greater lesson is clear, if not exactly news — bad bosses are the worst.