Thorn Returns As NBA ‘Top Cop,’ Jackson Steps Down After 13 Years

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

No, really. Rod Thorn, the longtime NBA and team executive who served 14 years as the league’s head of basketball operations, will return Aug. 1 with the title President, Basketball Operations.

Thorn, 72, will take over as CDO – chief discipline officer – from Stu Jackson, who has filled that role for 13 years as NBA executive vice president in Thorn’s, er, hiatus. During Jackson’s tenure, he oversaw all on-court and international basketball operations, conduct, discipline and analytics, while also serving as chairman of the NBA’s competition committee and on FIBA’s competition commission and USA Basketball’s Board of Directors.

NBA commissioner David Stern, in a statement, said that Jackson informed the NBA’s hierarchy that this was “the appropriate time to step down.” “We thank Stu for a job very well done, including assisting with the transition to Rod, and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Stern said in a statement.

Jackson, 57, previously worked in collegiate or pro basketball, dating back to assistant coach stints at Oregon, Washington State and Providence College. He served two seasons (1989-91) as head coach of the New York Knicks, spent two years (1992-94) as head coach at Wisconsin and was president and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies, also coaching that team over the second half of the 1996-97 season.

Thorn similarly has left fingerprints throughout the league. Most recently, the popular former coach and player had served as president of the Philadelphia 76ers. Before that, he worked in the same capacity with the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets, where he was named NBA Executive of the Year.

A prep star at Princeton High in West Virginia, Thorn was picked second in the 1963 NBA Draft, immediately ahead of Hall of Fame center Nate Thurmond. He played eight seasons, then moved to front-office and coaching roles in the ABA and the NBA. Thorn was the Chicago Bulls’ GM who drafted Michael Jordan in 1984.

From 1986 to 2000, Thorn worked alongside Stern in the job, essentially, he has again. Though a year older than Stern, Thorn is returning as the commissioner prepares for his exit on Feb. 1, 2014, after 30 years in the position.

“His basketball knowledge and team relationships are unparalleled,” Stern said. “We are fortunate that his talents are available to serve the league at this time.”

Thorn’s background – to play off a famous comment by Stern, the new EVP surely knows where a lot of the league’s bodies are buried, too – should serve as a solid resource for incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Kiki VanDeWeghe, a recent addition as senior VP, basketball operations, will report to Thorn, as will Mike Bantom, EVP, referee operations.

“I am looking forward to serving all 30 teams and our sport and am honored to be at the league office to help continue the game’s extraordinary growth,” Thorn said. “As the NBA turns increasingly to analytics and continues to tap into its growing fan and player base on a global basis, there is much work to be done.”

There was plenty of work in Thorn’s first go-round as the league’s top cop. As he recalled to in an August 2010 interview, being sheriff didn’t make him the most popular fellow around the league.

“I loved working in the front office, where I was in charge of issuing fines, among other things. This was during the Pistons and all the Bad Boy stuff. They gave me no choice; I had to fine them a few times. One day the Pistons were in New York to play the Knicks, and the NBA offices are located in Midtown. I was out to lunch when Ricky Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer came by the office. They had a very professional-looking sign with them, and they super-glued it to my door. And the sign said: ‘This office was furnished through fines paid for by the Detroit Pistons.’ Well, we couldn’t get the sign off …’ “

Pistons fans got to know Thorn well:

“Another time in Detroit, I was sitting a few rows up, and with about a minute left in the game, a guy walks by and says, ‘You’re a [bleep].’ I don’t say anything, I just let him keep walking. And then this older lady, who’s sitting in front of me, turns around and says, ‘That guy is right. You are a [bleep].’

“I was with Horace Balmer, the director of security, and he says, ‘I’m never sitting here with you again.'”

Thorn is back to endear himself to new generations of NBA fans.

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