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The angel of Stern

Following last Tuesday's matchup between the Lakers and the Spurs, NBA Commissioner David Stern fined Kobe Bryant a sum of $100,000 for using a gay slur to refer to a referee who had hit the superstar with a technical foul during the game.

While I completely understand what kind of image the commissioner is trying to promote with the punishment and the need for serious responses to problems like this, Stern is dealing with this situation in the completely wrong way.

Since the rise of Allen Iverson and what some people have come to describe as the "thug" culture of the NBA, Stern has taken whatever steps he could to combat a negative image of his players. He has enforced a dress code, issued incredibly long suspensions for fighting and even regulated how expressive athletes can be on the court - all in an attempt to improve the image of his league.

And it certainly has worked. There is a large portion of the population who view NBA basketball as this pure form of a sport. Just ask writers such as Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, and they'll convincingly argue that NBA basketball should be considered the best sport in the country. Basketball is a game that requires athleticism, skill and intellect - none of that brutish grunt work that you'll see in football. Basketball is a game of constant action - not rife with dull, dreary times like you might witness in baseball. And basketball is a sport of intellectuals and thinkers.

But those intellectuals are the same kind of people who also would be particularly offended by a gay slur. And before you start, Kobe's outburst upset me, too. And Stern, being the smart guy that he is, realized the NBA does not need this type of thing at all.

But what Stern consistently has failed to realize is that he cannot regulate morality. By fining Kobe $100,000, he cannot prevent other NBA players from using gay slurs in the locker room or anywhere else they may appear. By enforcing a dress code at games, he cannot mold players into people who they are not. And by regulating how expressive a player can and cannot be following a call, he cannot make the players stop talking back to the refs.

Then what should he do, you may ask?

Well, the answer is simple, and it begins with the NBA's allowance of kids to only attend college for a year or skip college altogether before entering its realm. How many 18- and 19-year-old kids do you know who can handle traveling day after day throughout half the year? How many 18- and 19-year-old kids do you know who can remain poised after earning more money in a short amount of time than they perhaps ever dreamed of? How many 18- or 19-year-old kids do you know who can make the best decision in a wide array of situations?

I know that the NBA tries to improve its rookies' ability to cope with these issues through a multi-day education symposium at the beginning of the year, but that is simply not enough. By allowing players to jump from college to the NBA after only a year of school, the NBA is preventing its young men from gaining the maturity they need to survive in the spotlight. The four years we spend at college are probably the single greatest period of growth that all of us go through in our lives.

A player, who may or may not have had the best upbringing, needs to experience this maturation process. He should not be thrust into the limelight at the tender age of 19. No one, and I repeat no one, is prepared to handle that type of pressure at that age.

Kobe Bryant, like a multitude of other players, did not attend college, and instead went straight to the professional ranks after high school. I know that Kobe has been a pro for multiple years now, but this incident alone is evidence that he is not as mature as a 32-year-old should be at this point.

I would tell Stern if he really cared about Kobe using a gay slur, then he should change the college "one-and-done" rule. Otherwise, he's only presenting a false public image in front of its fans - an offense far worse than anything Kobe Bryant could utter.