HOUSTON – Former Kings and Nets All-Star Otis Birdsong, at a brief ceremony Thursday afternoon extending the partnership between the NBA and the National Basketball Retired Players Association, took a moment to thank commissioner David Stern for his service to the league and his friendship.
A few minutes earlier at Houston’s convention center, Stern had officially welcomed fans to the latest, and his final, Jam Session at All-Star Weekend.
The next several days figure to be a lot of the above: People summing up Stern’s contributions as commissioner, maybe expressing their thoughts about what will be his 30 years at the top of the league’s hierarchy, and noting his last this and final that. After all, he’s a short-timer now – Stern announced in October that he would be retire from the post on Feb. 1, 2014. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver is his likely successor.
So as Stern made the rounds Friday, and continues through the weekend, there already was a twilight feel taking hold.
In one exchange, a reporter asked Stern what folks ought to know about him before he exits. “Everyone knows about me,” Stern said. “This is my 36th year at the NBA, starting [as legal counsel] in 1978. There’s not a lot left that people don’t understand, although they see me more in a business [mode] or less in some of my non-profit endeavors. But that’s just the way it is because I consider those to be more private.”
Ask 100 players, coaches, executives and fans across the NBA about Stern and there might be an equal number of differing opinions. As for those public moments when he gets booed by one team’s partisans or another’s – such as at the NBA Draft – Stern said: “They’re showing their fandom. I think it’s terrific.”
Stern’s final All-Star press conference – see, always with the historic stuff now – will be held at its customary time and place: Saturday in the bowels of the arena before All-Star Saturday events. But he took enough questions from reporters Thursday to provide a sampler for what he might be talking about in 48 hours.
Among other topics:
- Possible expansion as a solution to the franchise-relocation battle involving Sacramento and Seattle: “Talk to Adam next year. I don’t have any plans to champion expansion between now and February 2014.”
- The Kings’ uncertain future: “Seattle’s a great market. Sacramento’s been a good market. It’s going to be a very difficult decision for the Board of Governors, if Sacramento comes up with an offer. That’s why I’m glad I’m not an owner.”
- Turmoil in the NBA players union, with a meeting set for Saturday at which NBPA executive director Billy Hunter‘s fate could be determined: “We always look forward to negotiating with whomever the players association sends to negotiate with us. And we’ve had some really good negotiations over the years. Not only with Billy Hunter per se but with Jeffrey Kessler, who is the lawyer representing the union and [economist] Kevin Murphy … We’ve had some very difficult negotiations but we feel very good about where we are now.” [In other words, Stern, the league and the owners are interested observers but staying out of the fray.]
- An All-Star Weekend staged some year in London: “That’s for the next commissioner to worry about…”
Expect to hear at lot of that in the coming 11 1/2 months.