NEW YORK – The news of the day surprised few, if they had been following along: Starting in June, the NBA Finals will revert to the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule format currently used in all earlier playoff rounds and for The Finals prior to 1985.
In a nutshell, the reasons for 2-3-2 –- commercial air travel by the teams and catering to newspapers’ travel budgets – no longer are issues for the league, allowing competitive considerations about proper home-court advantage to carry the day. At the Board of Governors meeting that wrapped up in New York Wednesday afternoon, the unanimous recommendation of the competition committee from September was unanimously approved by the NBA’s owners/team reps.
The backstory of it all, though, was more compelling –- this was commissioner David Stern‘s last scheduled Board of Governors session, his last post-BOG news conference. Aside from the closed-door, collective bargaining bloodlettings in which Stern most famously rolled up his sleeves, earned his paychecks and made his bones, these meetings of the 30 team owners ranked a close second in crafting Stern’s reputation across 30 years as NBA commissioner and consummate cat herder. (His bi-annual pressers at The Finals and All-Star weekend placed third, offering glimpses of his many moods and styles to the fans.)
But for his finale, it seemed rather tranquil. For a man whose vision and will shaped the NBA over the past three decades like no others, and whose professional highlight/lowlight reel necessarily would be crammed with lockout moments, talk of “enormous consequences,” subtle verbal jabs and occasional fits of pique, the low-profile business that wrapped Wednesday was awfully tame.
“It is, right?” Stern said as he stepped from the platform, playing along momentarily with the “lightning rod” reputation one wag laid on him during questions and answers. Even Stern knows his best (and worst, equally memorable) moments have come during times of the NBA’s greatest turmoil. But this simply isn’t one of those times.
Business is good. Labor peace prevails at least until 2017. San Antonio’s Peter Holt will continue as BOG chairman. Reports at the BOG from revenue-sharing and collective-bargaining committees were encouraging, as Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver described them. Arena development or renovations are said to be on track in Sacramento, Minnesota, Milwaukee and New York’s Madison Square Garden. And two dozen or more franchises are on track to be profitable by the end of 2014-15, Stern said, assuming they want to be.
“There are some teams who will not be profitable, in many cases because they choose not to by virtue of their payments to either players or coaches or general managers,” he said. “We’re getting to a point that with revenue sharing, teams that are improving their performance will break even or make money, except for those that are ‑‑ I haven’t looked at the Nets’ balance sheet, but my guess is that they’re going to not necessarily be profitable. But that also involves large payments to build a building as well as large salary, as well as large [luxury] tax payments. But that’s OK.”
The meetings Tuesday and Wednesday might have been as much about Stern’s fast-approaching retirement as the Finals format or other league matters. He’ will step down Feb. 1, 2014, after precisely 30 years, the longest run of any commissioner in the four major U.S. pro sports. Pressed only a little, Stern shared some of what went on.
“Oh, there was a very warm reception last night at dinner at which some speechifying was accomplished,” he said, “and a series of totally embarrassing photos of me over the last 36 years, and a very heartwarming video that was voiced in part by … Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. It was pretty neat.
“It was a little bit over the top. There used to be a joke that said ‘My father would have enjoyed it, my mom would have believed it.’ It fell into that category. But it was very nice.
“I got the opportunity to thank my colleagues at the NBA for their incredible work and saying how pleased I was that the league was in such good hands under those colleagues and Adam’s stewardship.”
Silver will take over as commissioner on Feb. 1, a move that has been ratified and contractually set for the past year. No formal baton hand-off has been scheduled, but All-Star Weekend Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans will be two weeks too late.
At the close midday Wednesday, Stern said, a resolution was read into the meeting’s minutes. “[It] was also very warm and thanking me for my job done in the success of the league,” Stern said. “That provided the basis for me to quickly bang the gavel down on the meeting, and my last words were ‘Lunch is served.’ “
The kudos and plaudits will come rolling in over the final three months or so of Stern’s tenure. He has another victory lap or three in him, beginning with Miami’s championship ring presentation on opening night Tuesday, followed by a trip to Sacramento and the franchise that was saved for that city on his watch.
“The game is in good shape. We came off a great season,” Stern said. “Our teams are going to have record season-ticket sales, renewals are strong, sponsorships are up, gate is going to be up. Everything coming off a very strong base is going to be up this season. Seems like a really good time to do something else.”
Stern has been Silver’s biggest booster to the owners and in the media, assuring them of a smooth transition. Silver orchestrated a little payback Wednesday, commissioning a David J. Stern bobblehead to give to the owners and team reps. Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert later did an interview in which he joked that the Stern doll only shakes its head side-to-side, rather than nodding yes.
Stern told that story on himself, as relaxed and tranquil as he’s ever been in his job.
“Believe it or not, even including my interaction with the media and the burns I [have] from being a lightning rod, it’s been a great run,” the commissioner said, “and I’m grateful to the owners for giving me the opportunity.”
From 2-3-2 to 2-2-1-1-1
Rod Thorn, NBA President, Basketball Operations, recalled Wednesday a Finals turnaround in which the Celtics and the Lakers played on a Friday, flew from Los Angeles to Boston on Saturday, then played a matinee game at Boston Garden. With that in mind, the NBA will schedule an extra day off between Games 6 and 7 in June, if the 2014 Finals go that long.
No determination has been made yet on turnaround time for subsequent championship series, Stern and Silver said, or for the travel gaps between other games in the series. A Finals that goes seven games will require four airline flights between Game 2 and the finale, rather than the current two, but teams these days fly exclusively on charter flights.
Also, the competition committee felt that facing three consecutive road games (Games 3-5) was unfair to the team that earned home-court advantage, as was spending a full week on the road at that point in the postseason. Silver was said to have urged the owners to approve the change, citing basketball reasons over the business reasons that triggered the 2-3-2 approach. They approved it without dissent.
Interestingly, the teams with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home (if needed) won 21 of the 29 Finals (.724) played under 2-3-2, compared to a 26-12 mark (.684) for the 38 NBA/BAA championships through 1984.
“I think there is a sense that it skews the competition, but it’s not backed up by the data,” Silver said. “The likelihood of a team winning in a 2‑3‑2 format of the favored team is the same as in the 2‑2‑1‑1‑1 format. But there certainly was a perception … that it was unfair to the team that had the better record that it was then playing the pivotal Game 5 on the road.”