NBA Commissioner David Stern managed to distract us from the excitement of the NBA Finals on “The Jim Rome Show” by not being properly prepared to answer Rome’s questions.
When Rome asked Stern whether the NBA draft lottery was fixed (couching the question with the observation that many people are concerned about this potential), Stern’s first answer was the right one, a convincing “no.”
Then Stern made the mistake of continuing to talk. First, he objected to even being asked the question. Rome responded that he felt he asked the question respectfully and that his listeners want to know whether the NBA draft is fixed.
Instead of objecting to the question, Stern should have used his time supporting why the draft is conducted in the best or fairest possible way for the players, the league, and the fans.
But Stern kept on yakking. He asked Rome, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
Rome replied that wasn’t a fair comparison question, because his original question was based on the premise that there are people who do think the draft is fixed.
Then, even after objecting to Rome’s question, Stern amazingly went on to say that just the previous day, he had a discussion about that very topic.
Rome followed up, arguing that because the team that got the first draft pick happens to be owned by the league, doesn’t that make it a legitimate question?
Stern still didn’t agree and continued to say that Rome’s “fixed draft” question wasn’t fair. He added, “It’s good copy, and you do things sometimes for cheap thrills”
Rome, of course, disagreed.
Stern ended the somewhat contentious conversation saying: “I have to go call someone important like Stephen A. Smith now. He’s up next.” Smith is an ESPN sports reporter.
Here’s what Rome told USA Today in the aftermath:
“I was not looking to start anything. I thought it was a softball question. … The only people who believe in [a fixed draft] are wack jobs and people that are out of hand.”
NBA spokesperson Mike Bass was quoted in USA Today talking about the “beat your wife” question saying, “What it is is a classic unanswerable question, same as the one the commissioner was asked.”
Actually, that’s an easy question to answer. The answer is: “I never did nor would do that to my wife. I love her.” That question is asked as a trick to set up a yes/no answer. Addressing it directly but in a different way changes everything.
Stern was wrong. Almost any question is fair. Knowing how to answer tough or even insulting questions is the key. The key is to anticipate and embrace tough questions.
The lesson for Stern or for other high-level executives, for that matter? He needs to learn to look at things from the viewpoints of the media and the fans, not just from his NBA perch.
In this case, Stern had an opportunity to talk about the NBA’s integrity. Instead, we got involved in a personality conflict, impeding Stern’s ability to promote the league and the finals currently in progress.
Tripp Frohlichstein is founder of MediaMasters Inc. His firm specializes in media and presentation coaching, along with message development and message mapping. Contact him at www.mediamasterstraining.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.