David Stern teleconference
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NBA commissioner David Stern spoke with various media members on a teleconference in regard to the upcoming Playoffs, as well as various league issues. Here's what Stern said:
Q: I know you love all 30 of your children equally, but how rejuvenating or great is it for the League to have Boston and the Lakers back at the top of the standings? While I know you have no favorites for The Finals, it's exciting for the NBA to see those two teams leading?
COMMISSIONER STERN: It's interesting. We've been working ourselves to the bone for the last several years on, of course, every front. You know, I think it's great for the fans in those cities, but we're just finishing the last year of the six year deal. We've got eight years of television lined up in front of us on a network basis with our partners at Disney and Time Warner. And we're looking at an extraordinary opportunity, we think, to grow our sport.
And so we don't focus a lot on that, you know. But obviously, for me, at least, it would be great to see how excited the fans in those cities are. But you're not going to get from me what you want in response to that question. I apologize.
Q. Well let me follow it up then. You always talk about the League is a League of opportunity, how teams could turn it around from the bottom back to the top. To see franchises like that, that once great franchises in this League can be great franchises again. What kind of signal does that send to every team that might feel a little down?
COMMISSIONER STERN: Well, that's a big issue. That's about management. That's about either … in some cases it's about the draft. You know, in some cases it's about trades. And in some cases it's about free agent signings.
I think what that does begin to show is that, you know, oh ye of little faith. Continued good management can turn around the fortunes of franchises relatively fast, faster than we think, and that was certainly true in the case of the Celtics. I mean, that sets the tone.
But when you see a team like Atlanta, who has struggled for so long, and build through the draft, and then have a trade … or you see a Philadelphia, which trades away its star player, but suddenly is thriving. Or even just to see how Washington stays around having lost two players and suddenly is energized for the Playoffs. You recognize the importance that a signing, a trade or a draft pick can have in this League. And that's what we promise all of our fans; that opportunity each year to see whether it's going to get better based upon management.
Q. Just checking to see if there was any if you were uncomfortable at all with Pat Riley skipping the handful of Heat games? If that's something you'd like to see avoided in the future or if you were all okay with that?
COMMISSIONER STERN: If I had the first draft pick I'd want to sort of see it a little bit in the flesh, too. I don't have a problem with that. I think that, you know, usually the way our teams operate, they can choose from one of six assistants who, in many cases, are responsible for interfacing with the players at various levels and have head coaching experience themselves. I don't see any great issue there.
Q. With all the teams in the Western Conference Playoffs playing such high basketball, for you, as a basketball enthusiast, does this get you so excited about all the potential Playoff matches?
COMMISSIONER STERN: It makes me stay up later than I normally would. It's incredible to try to figure it out. I think this is the year when it almost doesn't matter. You just try to play it, and it’s just change every day. It's utterly extraordinary.
And if you're a basketball fan, you absolutely have to love it when every game at the end of the season, even if it doesn't explicitly deal with the seeding issue, it certainly deals with attitude and other kinds of psychological advantages.
It was extraordinary a month ago, and it's actually gotten tighter. I just don't think there's ever been anything like it, and I'm not sure there will ever be anything like it again. And I think that's one of the reasons why our broadcast partners have been doing so well.
Q. For you it's kind of exciting too, entering this Playoffs with the great match ups, and there probably won't be any Western Conference blowouts, and, two, more games means more games?
COMMISSIONER STERN: You know, I'm not prepared to say when teams are evenly matched that they'll necessarily go seven. It means there could be a tip in the advantage. I've been through too many blowouts that weren't supposed to be blowouts. So I don't think anyone's counting the number of games right now.
I think that they're going to be, you know, it would seem that way, and you understand that teams play for home-court advantage and that our teams are doing much better at home. But this has been such an interesting year, that I'm not sure that form is necessarily going to hold.
I hear the announcers saying that, you know, eight’s going to be favored over one depending on who the one is, so who knows. And that's the best part about it.
In an interesting kind of a way, with all the talk, our best record is in the East. So it promises to be a very exciting Playoffs for us.
Q. Are you entirely satisfied that all of the new procedures that you implemented for the referees this season to provide some safeguards have been entirely effective? And how do you think the referees have performed this season?
COMMISSIONER STERN: Well, I would say that all we've learned over the years is that you are never entirely effective. You just do the best that you can. And I think that the referees have had a very good season. I think that our fans appreciate the fact that our referees are a hard working group. They want to do the best possible job.
Given the stress that was placed on the staff prior to the season, I think it's fair to say we're very happy with their performance this season. And I know they're looking forward to the playoffs as well as we are.
Q. The Atlanta team making the Playoffs, how will that bolster your WNBA franchise?
COMMISSIONER STERN: I am not sure that I want to write Indiana out completely yet. There are still games to play. So I'd say that Atlanta, if it ended today, Atlanta would be in.
But I think it's very good for basketball, it's very good for the building. And I think that we're going to see an uptick in the interest in basketball in Atlanta, and that's going to translate to the benefit of the Hawks and to the Dream. So we're going to have, hopefully, a rebirth of a lot of people's interest in basketball in Atlanta.
Q. I'm wondering if there's ever been much thought given to the fact that if two teams finished tied for the eighth spot in the playoffs, having a playoff game rather than basing it on tiebreakers?
COMMISSIONER STERN: I think we have had the thought over the years. You know, as it related to the scheduling of that and the rest of that team, the winning team then going into the Playoffs, that, you know, the tiebreaking process was one that as long as everyone knew about it, it, you know, it was the best way to go.
I'm not suggesting that it's the most satisfying, but it's tried and true, and I think that's what our teams want. But, you know, it's not it's just sort of emblazoned in history. It's not set in stone. You know, it has worked for us historically on a regular basis.
Q. I just wanted to go back to Boston L.A. I know that you're not going to take sides, I understand that. But you have to admit that having those two storied franchises is going to be good for fan interest and for television ratings?
COMMISSIONER STERN: Compared to what? Chicago or New York?
Q. I'm saying in terms of well, you could add those two teams in there as well.
COMMISSIONER STERN: Or the Warriors? Obviously, the Lakers are a large market. The Celtics are a storied franchise, and if that happens, we'll get whatever we get.
But it's, you know, when you are when you are trying to, you know, sort of get yourself ready for the long haul, and in the long haul you hope, eventually, to have a situation where the event will come to define the teams rather than the teams defining the event.
There is no question that there is a level of enthusiasm and excitement in L.A. and in Boston, and amongst the media that I haven't seen for a while, and I understand what that's from. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
Q. Well, I guess what I was trying to say is the old saying of a rising tide being the Boston, L.A., New York, Chicago, will lift all bolts in terms of fan interest?
COMMISSIONER STERN: You know, I think that's probably true, but in light of the rising tide of the internet and the way that, you know, the idea. I remember when people were saying, well, Greg Oden, isn't it too bad he's in a time zone, the northwestern time zone. It required me to go back to look and double check that the time zone in Portland was the same as it was in L.A.
So I guess to the extent that we managed to get Kobe and Shaq on, we'd be able to get Oden on. But that got lost, because people tend to look past other cities and focus on two really storied franchises. No one was more a part of that than me.
I thought when I became commissioner, the natural state of what you did was you went to L.A. and Boston in June. But we've had quite an intervening period of successful years without doing that.
So I've got lots of franchises in the NBA, and no doubt that that will be a very highly rated series. But I think there will be others that will be more highly rated this year than in past years as well.
Q. You touched on it a little earlier, and I just wanted to see what your impression is on the improvement of the 76ers this year. And, also, are you surprised at what they've done to this point?
COMMISSIONER STERN: I'm surprised they did it so fast. I think that was the plan to have the turn around, to go with younger players, to give them an opportunity to do it. I think in the absence of this extraordinary Western Conference donnybrook that we've been enjoying, the 76ers are not getting the accolades that they deserve. I think that Maurice Cheeks is up there amongst the contenders for Coach of the Year.
The fans have turned it around on a dime.
I mean, big crowds, et cetera. So I think it's a spectacular story, and I think it's really what was projected for the team without knowing exactly how long it was going to take. And it happened, I think, sooner than they projected.
Q. In your eyes, is Chris Paul the perfect fit to be the star of the New Orleans Hornets, a team trying to establish itself in post Katrina, New Orleans?
COMMISSIONER STERN: Well, you know, he is really, I would say it's as though he were delivered by central casting: Somebody who works in the community, feels it so intensely, and also has a season that qualifies him for MVP consideration.
I think that that together with the good job that the Hornets are doing there in capturing the fan excitement as well, you know, following such a successful All Star Game has dramatically improved the prospects for the Hornets in New Orleans on a long term basis. And I think Chris Paul is very much at the epicenter of that improved effort.
Q. You said back in August you were satisfied that the Seattle ownership group had been honest throughout with their intentions. Has anything changed in your feeling in that regard?
COMMISSIONER STERN: No. Is there a follow up?
Q. Have you ever... I know you've said that you don't believe that the Seattle people's feelings is because of that particular owner, that they wouldn't give money to Howard Schultz. Did you ever talk to Clay Bennett about maybe selling the team if maybe that was different. If a different ownership group could have worked something out there?
COMMISSIONER STERN: Well, actually, I think it's fair to say that extraordinary efforts were made to seek ownership interest when Howard sold the team, including from people who became involved in the effort, the recently unsuccessful effort to get the state to extend the sales tax for purposes of retiring arena debt. So I think it happened already.
There was no one that was interested in buying the team including the very people who stepped forward at the last minute to participate in the arena renovation.
Q. I want to get your reaction to the release of the emails that seem to indicate that while Clay Bennett was indicating to you and to the public at large that there was no intent at that time to move the team, amongst the ownership group there seemed to be thoughts or action to move the team to Oklahoma City. Your reaction to that, and, also, is that something that you could or would act upon?
COMMISSIONER STERN: I haven't studied them, but my sense of it was that Clay, as the managing partner and driving force of the group, is operating in good faith under the agreement that he made with Howard Schultz.
His straight and narrow path may not have been shared by all of his partners and their views, but Clay was the one making policy for the partnership.
Q. Irrespective of anything, who is to blame for what's happened there? As you reach out strongly to Asia, how distressing is it to you that you're about to lose a city that is a major part of the pacific rim and has a large Asian population, and is a good outreach to Asia?
COMMISSIONER STERN: I would say that we don't ever like to lose a city, and we don't like to leave a city that is as robust as Seattle. But the Asian cities that we're tending to focus more on have names like Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong and Guangzhou. So, it's disheartening simply to leave the city as it would be to leave any city.
But in respects to Asia, there are many cities that are jockeying for that title, so to speak, but we have actually even moved past that and are dealing much more forcefully. My guess is that a year from now we'll probably have close to 200 people in different Asian cities. That's NBA employees.