After Wednesday night’s action, there are only six first-round NBA playoff series yet to be decided. And it sure looks like Los Angeles is back in control after handling the New Orleans Hornets in Game 5 at Staples Center. Still, even though most fans realized that the real fireworks wouldn’t be coming until round two, the opening slate of postseason series has been pretty darn good. What better time then to check in with the NBA commissioner David Stern? And what better station to hear him on than on 790 The Ticket in Miami? Well, maybe you don’t have the answer to that second question, but the big-name guys at The Ticket — namely Dan LeBatard and Stugotz – haven’t exactly endeared themselves to the NBA Commissioner.
The fact that LeBatard and Stugotz invited former NBA referee Tim Donaghy on to the air to pick NFL lines was obviously a lighthearted but nevertheless serious affront to Stern and the integrity of the game. The two talk about just that before welcoming on Stern, going so far as to admit that they didn’t tone down their criticism of Stern since then assuming that the Commish was done with them and not likely to ever join them on air again. Wrong. And that’s one of the things I respect most about Stern, second only to how much he gets it in terms of embracing digital media — he’s not afraid to interact with the media in a legitimately genuine way. Stern joined 790 The Ticket in Miami to talk about all things NBA — from this year’s historically interesting regular season, how he handled certain incidents this season, the opening round of the playoffs, the looming labor impasse, a potential Heat-Lakers final, Mark Cuban, the league’s ownership of the New Orleans Hornets, the future of the league, what significant changes to the game might be on the table for discussion in the near future, and what the league has and can learn from the complicated lockout mess the NFL is mired in.
If he believes this year’s NBA regular season was one of the best ever:
“You know, I think so. But there have been so many that back in the day, the Celtics, the 76ers, the Lakers, and everybody else, that it’s hard to say. But I think it’s up there, it’s in the top three of the most interesting is probably the last 30 years or so, and really the introduction of so many new young stars.”
Where he was when ‘The Decision’ was announced:
“Well I missed the rising on the stage, and I’m not sure I missed anything. But I was out in Idaho — Sun Valley at a conference — when I heard the news. And I watched ‘The Decision’ from there. And I thought it was going to make life very interesting for the team involved, the players, and the league itself.”
Did he secretly pump his first in delight that LeBron, Wade, and Bosh were uniting as he thought about the kind of ‘jolt’ the trio would bring to the league:
“No, I thought it would be a great jolt for Miami. If I’m remembering correctly, I mean, did they sign Chris (Bosh) before? The day before? I just remember thinking boy, this is going to be great for the fans of Miami, and not so great for the fans of Cleveland and Toronto. You know, I’ve got lots of franchises here, lots of charges. So I worry about them all.”
After being asked about fining Cavs owner Dan Gilbert for his actions after LeBron left Cleveland, Stern was asked about not fining Clippers owner Donald Sterling for heckling his own players:
“Oh, he’s just a fan at that point, and he promised he wouldn’t do it again.”
But there was a conversation with Sterling about it, right?
“Yes, there’s always a conversation with everybody. You know, the best way to describe it is to say that how you deal with something that has passed you, is that you say ‘I assume you didn’t do it if you did it it was an accident, that you didn’t mean to do it, and if you did do it, you’re not going to do it again. Right?’ Right, okay. Let’s move on.”
If he has any regrets about his handling of any incident this season:
“Oh, I’m a great second guesser of everything I do. But I just do it and then I move on. But I always say ‘what would I do differently if I had to do it again. And I do that with most of my decisions and actions.”
On what kinds of things he typically second-guesses himself about:
“Oh I wouldn’t do that; I couldn’t do that.”
If there’s not even a single incident he’d feel comfortable admitting that he wished he had handled differently?
“Usually it comes from saying one thing too much or being a little bit of a wise guy. It always gets you in trouble. You’ve got to know when to stop, and as a general matter, I’d say I’m always pushing it a little bit.”
What the key points of negotiation between the league and the players in the expected upcoming CBA negotiations:
“It’s very hard. There are probably four or five key points. One is the, literally the amount of revenue to be shared with the players; number two is the system– in other words the hardness of the cap; the length of contracts, and the size of the guarantee in each contract. Those are the predominant economic terms over which we expect to be negotiating with the players.” “If he thinks the relocation drama surrounding Sacramento and New Orleans — while perhaps good for the league in the grand scheme of things — might be a bad thing because of its effect on small markets. “Well, actually, in the long run, we think it will be. These are busy times for us. New Orleans was a situation where our ownership, I think, was at the end of its line in terms of credit, and didn’t want to make additional investments. And we thought the orderly thing to do at that time was to purchase the team so we didn’t get into a Texas Rangers situation of bankruptcy or a Dodgers situation of a league takeover. And we thought that because New Orleans is a very unique place, that we owed the effort to make the necessary manpower and financial investment to turn that team around. I’m proud to say that we’ve probably gone into next season, we’ve probably raised the number on their season tickets by 20 percent, and we’ll likely do it by 30, or maybe even 40 by the time the next season comes around. We’ll have increased sponsorship, and we’ll have made the team very attractive for a buyer in the local market. So I’m feeling very good about that.”
On his response to Mark Cuban’s remarks that the Hornets’ trade for Carl Landry was flat out wrong – a deal that took on more money for New Orleans when they’re apparently losing money that’s partly paid for by other league owners:
“Well, I think Mark wanted Landry for Dallas, which I think was accurate. And actually, the truth of what happened is that both the board and the auditing committee of the NBA approved the budget, and the team was authorized to operate within that budget. And they did and they have, so I don’t have any issue with what the team did. And they did it in fact with the implicit approval. I think Mark was concerned because he wanted Landry for the run, and the Hornets decided it was a good backup in case anything happened to David West. And guess what? Okay so… And then, the next one that Mark was complaining about was Corey Brewer, and we had made an independent decision…we being us management – Dell Demps, Jack Sperling, Hugh Webber, and Monty Williams — not to make the Corey Brewer acquisition. And Mark signed him to a substantial three-year contract.”
Is there a more difficult owner in the league to deal with outside of Cuban?
“Probably not, but it’s good copy. And I think that Mark in the broad sense is good for the league.”
What’s the most radical change the league is considering:
“Well I’m going to urge the owners — and it’s not very radical but we were talking about it for awhile — to adopt the international rule on basket interference. That is to say, once the ball hits the rim it’s in play. Because I think that it’s too hard to call. I think that we don’t want to stop the game every time to see if it’s the right call, but the camera that looks down on the basket can tell the story if the refs have gotten it right. And it’s just impossible to call to make whether the ball’s touching the rim, on the rim, off the rim or the like. And I think that would make the game faster, better, and less controversial. And I think we’re going to be putting in more — I forget the exact number — just more replay opportunities because we really want to get it right. So those are the biggest things. I also think we’re going to be talking about cutting out a timeout or two to move the game along. The last period, even in a close game, shouldn’t begin to approach an hour.”
What concerns him most about the future of the NBA:
“The thing I’m most concerned about is the collective bargaining agreement. If we can get through that — and I think Billy Hunter is as committed as we are to try to work it out — I think the future is very bright. The only things that concern me are issues of global proportions — whether there’s a double-dip with the economy that’s impossibly difficult, whether travel becomes even more complicated because of world conditions. But in terms of the sport itself, look at these playoffs. I said to someone today, here we are…Maybe I’m wrong, I haven’t looked, but it seems of our eight series, we have seven going and we’re sort of pushing up against the last weekend. It’s kind of neat, it’s kind of neat. It tells you that Philadelphia has been giving the Heat all they can handle in some games. Obviously Orlando is getting all that Atlanta has to offer and then look at the Grizzlies. It’s really just an extraordinary array of talent that appears to be pretty well distributed.”
If he’d agree that the NBA desperately needs to try to avoid the mess that the NFL has been dealing with recently:
“I guess what I’d say is — and I’m neither asking nor expecting any sympathy for us — is that the best I can tell is the NFL is making a lot of money and we’re not. And they decline to give their players the full extent of their books. We did. And they don’t have a union right now, and we do. So I want to take advantage of that relationship to try to make a deal.”