What's left, and how much longer for Stern? Print
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Saturday, 31 January 2009 07:58
NBA Headline News

 NEW YORK (AP) -After 25 years of taking the NBA around the globe, David Stern still isn't ready to stay at home.
Not when so many challenges remain, so many new opportunities exist to grow the sport. And certainly not when he still loves the game of basketball so much.
So as Stern this weekend reaches the 25th anniversary of his appointment as commissioner, one of the longest and most successful tenures in sports history, nobody seems to think the NBA needs to start hunting for his replacement anytime soon.
s about how to make it better than it is today.''
Stern won't share what those ideas are, declining all media requests to discuss his silver anniversary. He's not interested in talking about himself when his preference is always to talk about the game.
Others were glad to do the speaking for him.
``David saved the NBA,'' said Sacramento Kings owner Gavin Maloof, whose family owned the Houston Rockets before Stern took over the league. ``When we sold the team, he became commissioner I think shortly after that, or close to that, and really the NBA was headed for disaster and he saved the league.
``The league had a lot of problems. There was disinterest, there was no fan interest, no big TV contract. I mean David single-handedly saved the NBA.''
There are times when the NBA looks much the same as it did when Stern replaced Larry O'Brien and became the league's fourth commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. The Boston Celtics would beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals a few months later, just as they did last June.
Yet so much has changed. Seven new teams have been added since then, bringing the league's total to 30, not to mention the creation of the WNBA and NBA Development League, providing countless opportunities to pursue careers playing basketball in the United States that previously weren't available.
Stern's legacy is tied more to what he's done to take the game to other countries.
He proudly boasts that the NBA played regular-season games in Japan way back in 1991, or that two-thirds of the players on the medals podium at the Beijing Olympics were NBA players. The league currently plays preseason games in Europe and China, and its All-Star and NBA finals games have been televised in hundreds of countries.
``Our game is global now and I don't think you could say that about it even 15 years ago, said two-time MVP Steve Nash, one of the NBA's most accomplished international players. ``It wasn't quite global, so 25 years ago it was archaic, nonexistent by global standards. So he's done a marvelous job at spreading the game and growing the game.''
Stern has grander plans. The league has set up offices in China to capitalize on its wild popularity there and hopes to build a similar presence in India. He said there will be regular-season games in Europe before the 2012 Olympics in London, and has spoken hopefully of placing NBA teams on that continent within a decade.
The question is how long the 66-year-old Stern will stick around to chase his goals, having lost valuable time when he had to focus so much attention on overhauling his referee operations department following the Tim Donaghy betting scandal, and now facing some potential roadblocks caused by the worldwide economic crisis.
In October 2005, Stern committed to a ``minimum'' of five more years on the job. That would run concurrent with the existing collective bargaining agreement, which goes through the 2010-11 season - though the league has an option to extend it an additional year - and it's unlikely he would leave before a new deal is in place.
Stern has given few indications whenever asked about retirement in recent years. He'll joke that he's younger than baseball commissioner Bud Selig, 74, while on other occasions vowing he won't reach former NFL boss Pete Rozelle's 39 years on the job.
``I think he'll stay as long as he's capable,'' Maloof said. ``I don't think there's a timetable, I don't think he has a timetable, but we'd love to see him as long as he wants to be there.''
Many believe that as long as Stern still enjoys keeping the NBA at the forefront of a changing technological world, where a fan can view a game in 3D-HD, then read a story about it on his cell phone, he won't consider doing anything else.
derstand the concepts, but he likes digging in and learning what they are and how they will impact not just the NBA but global economics.''
Just as Stern finished guiding the league out of the Donaghy scandal, what he called the worst situation he had seen in his time with the NBA, the economy looms as another obstacle.
Stern said during the fall that the NBA would continue to grow despite the downturn and that he had ``no concern whatsoever'' about any of his franchises being in trouble. But if the situation continues to deteriorate, there will be threats to the league's overall health.
Already, the Maloofs are having trouble finding a private developer for a new arena in Sacramento, a project Stern has assisted. The Nets' move from New Jersey to Brooklyn has been delayed amid persistent speculation it could fall into jeopardy, and it's doubtful Seattle will make it a priority to fund the new facility it needs to have hopes of landing a team to replace the loss of the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City - one of the true disappointments of the Stern era.
However, Stern can claim the game is in good shape, and that's perhaps his greatest passion. The renewal of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry last year re-energized the league and a rematch could be on tap. Or maybe LeBron James leads his Cleveland Cavaliers into the finals, or some team in the deep Western Conference can knock off Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Asked during the finals to reflect on his first championship series as commissioner, Stern began by marveling at the talent that was on those Boston and Los Angeles teams in the mid-1980s. Suddenly, he shifted into why he might prefer the present-day NBA that he did so much to create.
``The good old days sometimes were not quite as good as people say they are, and these may be the good new days, and the richness of talent, the 75 international players that we didn't have available to us in 1984, all of the young talent that's coming in,'' Stern said. ``I'm a fan, and I think it's as good as it's ever been.''
 

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