HOUSTON – The final All-Star press conference of NBA commissioner David Stern‘s 30-year tenure played out like so many of the others, with Stern working the room with a mix of charm, seriousness, humor, pride, lawyerly word-parsing and snark.
The most notable difference from past performances was increasing play-by-play with deputy commissioner Adam Silver, his presumptive successor when Stern officially steps down Feb. 1, 2014, weeks before next year’s All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Silver, at that point, will be the one fielding the familiar questions about expansion, drug testing, international growth, the D-League, etc.
For example, when asked about dueling bids from New York and Brooklyn to host the 2015 All-Star Game, Stern said: “This is terrific. There are two applications in, one from Brooklyn and one from the [Madison Square] Garden. And I really think that commissioner Silver is going to have a great time with those applications, I really do. And I asked him to send me a postcard to tell me how they go.”
There was less banter on the subject that dominated the Q&A period of the half-hour-plus news conference: the possible franchise relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, pending a sale to investor Chris Hansen‘s group, its transfer application and approval by the league’s Board of Governors. The procedure is well-established, the subject has been (and will be) covered extensively on NBA.com – here, here and here, among other pieces – and, as Stern said, “I don’t see any scenario where both cities are happy.”
Asked to what degree the final verdict – keeping the Kings in Sacramento or re-branding them as the new SuperSonics – will hinge on economics vs. emotions, the commissioner said: “I don’t believe it’s going to come down to economics because it’s not about, ‘OK, I say 525 [million dollars].’ ‘All right, I say 526.’ To me, that would be economics. I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide. But I don’t want to get to it because we don’t have the predicate for that tough decision yet.”
Stern said that, unlike last year in Orlando, Sacramento’s mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, did not meet with league executives in any attempt to broker a deal. Johnson, who did meet with interested media after Stern’s news conference, still is working up a counter-offer to keep the Kings.
“And then the owners are going to have to deal with it,” Stern said. “This is a good time to be a commissioner and not an owner.”
A glimpse of Stern’s famous protectiveness of all things NBA flashed in a later question about Seattle’s possible return as a league market, given the Sonics’ sale and move to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Asked if he regretted the way the NBA left Seattle, he said: “But I seem to remember, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that there was a $300 million‑plus subsidy for the Mariners, and a $300 million‑plus subsidy for the Seahawks. … There was a legislation which precluded that for the Sonics, and [Washington Speaker of the State House Frank] Chopp said that we should take the money from our players. Is there anything that I’m missing there?”
As usual, beside the occasional Borscht Belt routines, Stern and Silver addressed a gamut of topics:
- The league had no comment on the National Basketball Players Association vote Saturday to terminate executive director Billy Hunter after 17 years of service. “We await notification from the union as to who we should be dealing with,” Stern said.
- Proud of the NBA’s drug-testing program, Stern repeated his remarks from last week in Minneapolis that human-growth hormone (HGH) would be added to the list of banned substances before the start of next season, subject to an agreement on testing protocol. He said of NBA players, “They want to be perceived as playing in a drug‑free sport.”
- The NBA’s vision for the D-League, Silver reiterated, remains a 30-team league with 1-to-1 affiliations with parent clubs. “We think it’s the second-best basketball in the world after the NBA,” Silver said. D-League teams may be used to extend the NBA brand through promotional games internationally, he added.
- Stern and Silver both talked of further growth opportunities globally, particularly in India, Africa and China. Stern will be traveling to Mumbai and Silver said a basketball academy might be opened in India similar to one the league created in China.
- Stern’s favorite All-Star memory? No surprise here: Awarding Magic Johnson the MVP trophy after the 1992 game in Orlando. Johnson had abruptly retired before that season after being diagnosed with the HIV virus. “Giving sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last 3, and still being able to hug him – because he’s alive – every time I see him,” the commissioner said. “That is at the top of the list.”
- Second-best? Staging the “50 Greatest” players event at the 1997 All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, with 47 attending and only Hall-of-Famer Pete Maravich deceased at that point (Jerry West and Shaquille O’Neal missed the weekend.)
- As for future All-Star Games – the 2014 game is set for New Orleans – Silver said that Cleveland also has applied to host the 2015 game, in addition to the Knicks and the Nets. Other ideas have been floated from time to time. “We’ve discussed playing internationally,” Silver said. “I’m not sure if it will work, logistically, but it’s something we’ll continue to study. We’ve looked at other neutral cities [like Las Vegas in 2007]. We’ve looked at refreshing All‑Star Saturday Night and other innovative events for the weekend and I think we’ll continue to do that, the same way we have under David’s leadership.”
Let the passing of the torch continue.