ORLANDO – NBA commissioner David Stern began his All-Star break like a lot of executives who book a long weekend in Florida as a winter getaway – attending to work he brought with him from the office.
The fact is, Stern always has a heavy agenda of league business at All-Star Weekend. The more pressing topics this time involve the literal fate of two franchises, Sacramento and New Orleans, and the uncertainty facing a third, Orlando, in the trade rumors and looming free agency of the Magic’s All-Star center, Dwight Howard.
Stern, who spoke with some reporters after participating in the opening ceremonies of the All-Star Jam Session at the Orlando convention center, faced fast and furious questions about Howard, whose whereabouts have overshadowed most of the regular-season basketball in this town. The commissioner wasn’t eager for it to do the same thing with the All-Star events but acknowleged that the media would dictate that, more than him.
He reiterated his position that NBA players eventually have the right, the freedom, to choose their places of employment and cities of residence.
“I’m so old, I remember when Wilt Chamberlain wanted to change teams, and then Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It wasn’t invented here,” Stern said. “Dwight played for years here. He was drafted by Orlando and he played for seven years. God bless him. I hope he makes a wise decision.”
The fate of the Sacramento Kings hinges on the city and the team reaching an agreement on a new arena, with a March 1 deadline for the NBA to consider relocation options. The parties will meet Sunday before the All-Star Game, with no extension in discussion now.
“By March 1, we hope to either have a deal or not have a deal,” Stern said. “We don’t hope to not have a deal. … But we’re looking for imaginative ways to deal with the lots of issues that there are.”
Markets eager to lure an NBA franchise such as Seattle and Anaheim will know much more by the end next week. “Our focus has been to see whether the deal can be crafted to get a new building built that everyone agrees is needed for the city of Sacramento,” he said.
Regarding the Hornets, currently owned and operated by the NBA, Stern repeated what the told TNT’s David Aldridge earlier this week: The league has two prospective buyers on whom it has been focusing, while negotiating lease terms with public officials in Louisiana.
Stern – who will give his official “state of the league” address to reporters prior to All-Star Saturday night events – touched on the Linsanity that has swept the NBA and beyond over New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin. Lin will participate in the Rising Stars game that evening.
“It’s fair to say that no player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time – in any sport that I’m aware of – like Jeremy Lin has,” Stern said. He mentioned the impact that has swept into popular culture, including “[magazine] covers, editorials, learned comparisons of the ethos of sports vs. the ethos of religion… racial treatises – I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”