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NBA’s Stern is off target on guns

Certain headlines scream out for further comment, and this is one: “Stern wants NBA players to leave guns at home.”

Man, I love this league. Only in the NBA could the commissioner go from defending the widely criticized new ball to criticizing the players’ right to defend themselves. Actually, given the angry reaction to the synthetic leather basketballs, maybe the logical next step for David Stern was to get guns out of the players’ hands. You know, in case things escalate.

The gun issue became a topic during Stern’s conference call with NBA reporters Wednesday. That’s the type of subject that can pop up in an exhibition season in which the Indiana Pacers’ Stephen Jackson fired five shots in the air after an altercation at a strip club and the Boston Celtics’ Sebastian Telfair was questioned in connection with the shooting of a rapper.

Stern can’t stop players from owning guns, but he indicated he’d like to keep them from carrying them.

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“I would favor being able to have a firearm to protect your home. Period,” Stern said. “I don’t think it’s necessary to walk the streets with a gun.... It’s a pretty widely accepted stat that if you carry a gun, your chances of being shot by one increase dramatically.”

Stern can’t start legislating players’ personal lives without the consent of the National Basketball Players Assn. And the union’s Dan Wasserman sounded as if they already had gone far enough when he told the Associated Press that during last year’s labor negotiations, “a provision was added to the collective bargaining agreement that subjects the players to discipline if they bring any kind of firearm, even if it’s licensed, to an NBA arena, practice facility, or even a team or league off-site promotional appearance.”

Promotional appearances? Did they really have incidents of players bringing guns to Habitat for Humanity events?

I’ve never been a gun guy and don’t see the need to own or carry one. But I also don’t see why Stern seems more adamant about the league’s image than the actual product. I wish he’d use his energy and his power to keep the old leather basketball instead of the new synthetic composite, which has been panned by everyone except the NBA and Spalding. The balls, unlike guns, could affect the quality of play.

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And when it comes to legislating behavior, I wish he’d be as consistent with the rest of the league’s employees as he is with players. Over the years, the general public’s safety has been threatened just as much -- if not more -- by coaches driving drunk as by players carrying guns. The latest to exceed state blood-alcohol content levels while behind the wheel was Sacramento’s Eric Musselman, but I haven’t heard the commissioner’s office react to that one.

Carrying guns is one of those Things That Only Seem Bad When NBA Players Are Doing It. You know, like going from high school straight to the pros. Fine for baseball, hockey, tennis and golf, but a danger to our society when it involves basketball.

The New Jersey Nets’ Richard Jefferson pointed out the double standard when he dealt the Dick Cheney card to the Newark Star-Ledger.

“Shoot, our vice president shot somebody in the face,” Jefferson said in the aftermath of the Jackson incident. “A dude gets punched in the face and fires off shots and all of a sudden it’s, ‘What’s an athlete’s things with guns?’ Shoot, people go on hunting trips with semi-automatic weapons. Is there a need to take an AK-47 to shoot deer? Which one is worse?”

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Next time you’re driving around town keep an eye out for how prominently guns are featured in the billboards for the new James Bond movie, “Casino Royale.” The gun has always been part of the whole Bond image: tuxedo, martini (shaken, not stirred), Walther PPK. A gun is even incorporated into the 007 logo. What kind of message does that send to our kids?

Granted, there are certain things that can only happen in the NBA, such as the time in February when Telfair tried to take a loaded gun in a pillowcase aboard a team plane. The best part was his explanation: the gun belonged to his girlfriend, and Telfair had grabbed the wrong bag. On second thought, the best part was that at least part of the story checked out: the gun was registered to his longtime girlfriend. (If my girlfriend kept a gun in a pillowcase, she’d be my ex-girlfriend. That’s a little too Sharon Stone-Basic Instinct.)

There’s a recent tragic incident that proves Stern both right and wrong. In 2002, the recently retired Jayson Williams was accused of manslaughter in the shooting death of a limousine driver in Williams’ home. There were no hostilities, just an awful result from horseplay, a case in which mere gun ownership wound up costing a life. (A jury found Williams not guilty of the most serious charge of aggravated manslaughter but deadlocked on a charge of reckless manslaughter.)

The thing was, Williams wasn’t one of the hip-hoppers in baggy jeans and cornrows that Stern gnashes his teeth over. He was the type of person the NBA liked to promote, a bright, humorous guy who had transitioned to a member of NBC’s studio show. And while other players ignored their offspring, he took responsibility for the children of his deceased sisters.

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It goes to show that you can’t predict what people will do, just as you can’t control them. So you definitely shouldn’t step across constitutional boundaries to restrain them.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.


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