By Ben Golliver
HOUSTON — NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver held their annual All-Star media availability on Saturday at the Toyota Center. Unlike Stern’s two most recent All-Star State of the Union addresses, which were dominated by pre-lockout and post-lockout topics, the 2013 version was noticeably free of fireworks.
The hot topic, of course, was a sale agreement between a Seattle-area investment group and the Kings, and the possible relocation of the franchise from Sacramento to Seattle. Stern fielded a number of questions on the subject but did not deliver any major headlines on the issue, deferring discussion of the topic to upcoming NBA Board of Governors meetings.
Saturday’s conference marked the final All-Star address of Stern’s tenure as commissioner, which dates to 1984. In Oct. 2012, Stern announced that he would step down as commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014. Silver is expected to take up the top post.
Here’s a digest version of the key quotes and topics from the press conference, which preceded All-Star Saturday night festivities.
The headline from Saturday’s comments on the Seattle/Sacramento situation reaffirmed the self-evident: this ends with heartbreak for someone.
“I don’t see any scenario in which both cities are happy here,” Stern said, ruling out the possibility of expansion to accomodate both cities’ desire to have a franchise during the remainder of his tenure.
Stern summarized the state of affairs: the NBA has received “an application … to transfer ownership” and “an application to move the team to Seattle” from a group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. The NBA is currently processing those applications in preparation for an April 18 Board of Governors meeting.
Meanwhile, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has “advised” the NBA that his city “will be delivering … a competitive bid” to retain the Kings. Stern made a point to note that the NBA did not meet with and will not meet with Johnson during All-Star weekend. He also clarified that the possibility of two offers is not the beginning of a bidding war.
“I don’t believe it’s going to come down to economics,” Stern said of the Board of Governors’ consideration of two possible offers. “I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide. … We don’t have the predicate for that tough decision yet. It’s going to wait upon Mayor Johnson making good on his statement that there will be an offer. And it’s going to be upon the Sacramento area, a number of the regional municipalities and the various people who have been saying they’ll give the mayor the support he needs.”
Stern said that the SuperSonics’ departure from Seattle to Oklahoma City “saddened” him because Seattle is a “great city” and that he would “like to see us go back there.”
Initial reports on the sale agreement between the Maloof family and the Hansen/Ballmer group indicated that the sale and relocation would be approved by the Board of Governors in short order. Stern did not tip his hand on that issue either way, failing to shed any specific light on what Sacramento’s prospects are should their competitive bid come to fruition.
“It’s plausible to me,” Stern said of a Sacramento bid winning out over Seattle’s. “But I don’t have a vote. I expect the owners have a very open mind on this.”
One potential roadblock to the Seattle move that has been raised: the possibility that the Kings’ minority owners could slow or stop the process by invoking their right of first refusal on the sale. Stern said only that he didn’t believe the possibility would be a “defining issue” for the sale or relocation.
Finally, Stern refused to offer Sacramento any advice on its bid. He said that Seattle did not need to add to its applications in any way, and he stood up for Thunder owner Clay Bennett as the head of the NBA’s relocation committee (Bennett moved the SuperSonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City).
2015 All-Star Game Heading To New York?
Stern said that the NBA has received two applications to host the 2015 All-Star Game: one from the remodeled Madison Square Garden and one from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Silver said “yes” when asked if it was “likely” that one of those two venues would play host to the 2015 All-Star Game, although he said there was not yet a timeline for making an official announcement.
The 2014 All-Star Game is slated for New Orleans.
NBPA Ousts Billy Hunter
Earlier Saturday, National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher announced the ouster of executive director Billy Hunter, who had led the players’ union since 1996.
Stern confirmed his knowledge of the developments but refused further comment.
“I don’t have any comment on the Players Association situation other than we know as much as you do and nothing more,” he said. “We’ve seen Derek Fisher’s statements and we await notification from the union as to who we should be dealing with.”
The NBA last expanded in 2004, adding the Bobcats in Charlotte as the league’s 30th franchise. As noted above, Stern said that the NBA would not pursue expansion plans during the remainder of his tenure.
The commissioner also questioned whether adding to the league’s 30 franchises makes business sense.
“There’s a large group of owners who believe that expansion as an economic matter is a neutral thing,” he said. “We’ve just come through an intriguing collective bargaining negotiation and coupled it with specific revenue sharing, over $200 million. I think the sentiment is to let it all settle and assess how we are doing and what the projections are for how we’ll do.”
Silver questioned whether there was enough basketball talent to justify adding another franchise.
“We think we’re at the right point right now in terms of numbers of teams and numbers of players,” he said. “There are only so many of the world’s greatest players that can perform at the highest level.”
Stern interjected, saying that he disagreed in part because he believes there are an “unlimited numer” of players capable of playing in the NBA as basketball continues to globalize. Ultimately, though, Stern agreed with Silver’s point that the NBA is comfortable with its current size.
Earlier this month, Stern said that the NBA would follow Major League Baseball’s lead by implementing blood testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) by next season. He briefly expanded on those plans.
“We expect that to happen, we really do, before the start of next season,” Stern said.
Plans for more extensive testing that would take place over the course of an athlete’s career — dubbed a “Biological Passport” — won’t come until later and will require the consent of the NBPA.
“I think the blood test is the precursor to the biological passport,” Stern said. “That’s a subject for discussion with the Players Association.”
Stern repeated earlier statements that the league’s players remain committed to maintaining a clean league.
Other Future All-Star Game Sites
Silver said the the NBA has long considered the idea of holding an All-Star weekend internationally but that the possibility is currently remote.
“I’m not sure if it will work logistically,” he said, adding that the NBA would also consider cities that do not have an NBA team as possible host cities. One such city, Las Vegas, hosted All-Star weekend in 2007.
Silver said that he had “conversations” with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert about holding All-Star weekend in Cleveland and that he would “love” to return to the city. Stern was also asked whether there had been discussions about holding the All-Star Game in Miami and he said that he wasn’t aware of any.
Stern’s Favorite All-Star Moments
Given that 2013 is the last All-Star Game he will oversee, Stern was asked for his favorite All-Star moments. He had two.
First, the 1992 All-Star Game in which Magic Johnson came out of retirement spurred by HIV to win the MVP award.
“My favorite moment actually compounded and growing to the present day is awarding Magic Johnson the MVP trophy in Orlando. … Giving sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last three and still being able to hug him, because he’s alive. … That is at the top of the list and it will not easily be dislodged. Even though I do enjoy every All-Star, that one will resonate for the rest of my life.”
His other favorite: assembling 49 of the NBA’s 50 greatest players for a ceremony during the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland.
“That is a close second, but not quite,” Stern said. “To get those 49 guys, and we knew it was the last time we were ever going to get them together like that, and to put them in effect in a uniform, through a jacket of the team that they represented, that was a big thrill, too.”
As the press conference concluded, Stern offered a goodbye of sorts, extending thanks to the media and his top executives.
“I would like to use this occasion to say how much I have enjoyed these sessions,” he said, “otherwise I wouldn’t subject myself to them on such a continuing basis. And really to thank the [NBA executives] in the front row, in addition to the media here, because they’re the people that make the NBA as good as it is.”