Leave David Stern alone.

The NBA commissioner has absorbed a savage beating this week, and for what?

Being the only boss of a major professional league in America with the stones to make rules, apply them the same to every player in all circumstances and then defend the fallout on national TV, that’s what.

Stern is accused of sullying the de facto NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns.

If you somehow missed the highlight and the venom-spitting that followed, here’s the abridged version:

Robert Horry threw a leg whip at Steve Nash in the closing seconds of Game 4, sending the brightest Sun into a courtside table. Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw leaped off the Phoenix bench like Secret Service acolytes, an offense punishable by an immediate one-game suspension. Horry sits for two games.

Pretty simple, run-of-the-mill, boys-will-be-boys stuff. When it happens on Jan. 15.

It took all of eight seconds for Charles Barkley to point out the perceived difference, and roughly another eight hours for the news cycle to jump on Barkley’s bombastic bandwagon.

These are the playoffs, they cry. Horry is 62 years old and generally useless to the Spurs unless he’s left open when they are tied or trailing by a point in the final 30 seconds. Stoudemire, on the flip side, is one of the transcendent young talents in the game, and Diaw is a stellar sixth man.

That’s when the third-man-in penalty suddenly became too severe, and the rule itself allegedly antiquated.

This coming from the same crowd that would like to see Barry Bonds snap a hamstring when he gets to No. 754 and demands that Michael Vick grow up. It’s like a member of the Green Party driving a Lincoln Navigator or a firebrand from the religious right demanding forgiveness for a congressman chatting up underage boys on the Internet. You can’t have it both ways.

David Stern has addressed every concern most of us harbored about the modern-day NBA.

If you make $20 million a year, you can afford a suit that doesn’t have ‘paternity’ in front of it and wear the thing on your charter flight. If you make a public spectacle every time a referee dares to suggest that you commit a foul once every leap year, you will hear that whistle again when you get T’d up. If you hop the railing and enter the crowd to throw down with spectators, you will become a spectator for a long time.

What have the other guys done for us lately? The NFL’s Roger Goodell set a nice precedent in the first year of his tenure, but I’m waiting to see consistency and longevity.

Baseball’s inmates have balanced the asylum’s books throughout Bud Selig’s sorry reign. Gary Bettman has plunged the NHL into an abyss of irrelevance. NASCAR’s Mike Helton is suddenly playing enforcer after years in which cheating has been the fiber of auto racing’s being.

Stern is the most powerful commissioner in pro sports. And he made the right call. Again. So back off.


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