NBA Commissioner David Stern talks to USA TODAY - USA TODAY

In a conference room adjacent to his Manhattan headquarters office, overlooking St. Patrick's Cathedral and its majestic neo-Gothic white marble spires, NBA Commissioner David Stern, 69, spoke of the state of the league and personal observations with USA TODAY NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt.

It seems to have been an uneven season so far with …



I don't think we've ever had an even season.

A few more blowouts this year, scoring being down. I've seen you quoted that it's gone about as expected.


Was there any thought to a schedule with fewer games, a longer preseason and more practice time in season?

For us, the most important question was, "What could we do to settle it and restore the greatest number of games?" We were sensitive to the fact that in 1999 there had been much criticism about the 50-game asterisk season. And so we were determined, within the realm of stretching the season as far as we could until the July 4th weekend, of getting in as many games. And I think the parties came to believe that playing 80% of the games in 75% of the season was not an undue stretch, given the comfort of the charter planes, the competence of the training staffs and the extension and expansion of the rosters to having 13 players active.

The NFL lockout seemingly was forgotten by the end of the season. Is there any NBA lockout cloud still over this season? By the playoffs, do you expect the same excitement that surrounded the postseason last year?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that's right. But, I don't think the media will let go of it for a while because it's all too delicious every time there's a blowout or every time there's a loss, you're saying this horrendous lockout-shortened season. … It's not the perfect season. It has its unevenness to it. It has coaches making decisions that they think are best for them and teams — like how to space minutes, how to deal with practice or not, scrimmage or not, how to deal with training. Some trainers are changing, actually, the nutritional direction of their team — emphasizing, perhaps, more massage for recovery than previously.

So this is enabling teams to see whether these very significant sums of money they're spending on lots of talent are going to be making a difference in the competitive landscape. And several teams believe it has. But they're treating it as trade secrets, which they don't want to share.

Beyond lost games and revenue, any other regrets?

My regret is that we had a pretty good idea of where it was going, in terms of negotiations, and we should have been able to do it sooner. That's all. Other than that, I think the 20% of the games of one season is going to turn out to have been a modest price to pay for the fundamental change in the league's operation going forward. And by that I mean its competitiveness and the value of its franchises.

At one of the last news conferences, the topic of your stay as commissioner was raised — and you flat-out said you did not think you would be here for the next negotiations.

Unquestionably true.

Even if it's a sixth year opt-out of the 10-year deal?

Unquestionably true.

Is there a time frame?

No. I really love my job. I do it with enthusiasm. It changes every day, and I just think that there should come a time — and in my mind, that time is before the reopening, or potential reopening (of labor talks). There's work to be done now, making sure that our collective bargaining is properly implemented, that the revenue sharing is properly done, that the obligation on every team to maximize its revenue comes to pass and that the incredible developments that lie before this league in both the digital world and the international world are set, or reset, on an incredible path that I've foreseen. And then someone else will continue to grow it. Because there is something to be done new every second.

What input will you have in the hiring of your successor?

I don't expect to have any input. It's an owners' league. I have an extraordinarily talented deputy (Adam Silver). But ultimately the question is for the owners to decide. I expect to always be loyal to the NBA and be able to assist it in any way that I can be helpful. But when you're gone, my view is, you should be gone.

Do you want Adam to get the job?

I think he's an extraordinary executive who's been with me for 20 years. But this is an owners' league, and that's their decision to make.

What will be the biggest challenge for your successor?

The challenge is how to take advantage. We've always had a pretty good relationship with our players. And the challenge is, coming out of a lockout, to continue to rebuild that, which I think is well underway. And the challenge is working together to grow every aspect of our business and how to manage that growth. The opportunities are virtually endless. The new national television contract that is going to be negotiated, it is going to be extraordinary. The international television contracts are going to continue to grow. The delivery of our games by broadband to laptops, PCs and hand-held devices is going to be an accelerated growth that's going to be dazzling even by our own historical standards. And the use of social media to enhance what we do is going to make us and keep us at No. 1 amongst all sports in terms of social media.

How close are you to the sale of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets?

I'm optimistic and hopeful that we will complete the sale by the end of the month.

Are you talking with one prospective buyer?

We're talking with multiple perspective buyers, but we're anticipating the ability to close by the end of the month.

Can you give me a number?

We've had offers from seven but winnowed it down to two or three, and we're working on it.

Mark Cuban has spoken again about the way the league handled the Hornets-Chris Paul trade. I know he was fined recently for criticism of officiating. What do you think when you read his comments? Is it just Mark being Mark, or is there something more to it?

Actually, it's Mark being Mark, but in a way that most people don't understand. Mark is always focused on what's best — for his team. … There is no doubting that Mark is an intense competitor, and there is something always behind his jabs. The one thing I will say is that he basically wanted us to punish Chris Paul and not trade him. And the (Hornets) had indicated to Chris previously that if they couldn't satisfy him, they would trade him. And we made good on that promise.

What of the Kings and plans to keep them in Sacramento?

We're also optimistic — hopeful — that there'll be some strong signal of support by the City Council and the request for proposal responses that will enable them to raise a substantial sum of money … that would enable the (construction of) a new building that would cement the team's future. I expect there to be a very strong sign of that by the end of the month.

Another fiercely competitive owner, Michael Jordan, is having a tough time in Charlotte. What do you see there?

Michael's in this for the long haul. And sometimes, the worst thing that a team can do is to make strategic decisions that are just designed for tomorrow rather than the day after tomorrow. And I view Charlotte as a team that's, in terms of its community reaction to it, won the support of the community. People know that Michael's working very hard. They have a young roster and Paul Silas is the coach and they're getting their lumps. But there are always going to be teams getting their lumps. Talk to the Pistons, talk to the Nets and talk to some teams who are getting fewer lumps now, like Minnesota.

When you're at games, how much do you engage with players and has that become easier or more difficult?

The process has been easy. Players come through the office all the time, and our player-programs people always check my calendar. If I'm in, I say hello. When I'm out on the road, I get an opportunity sometimes to say hello. We're always working with the union. My colleagues here are going to team awareness meetings and team business meetings and other things that interact with the players because basically we're committed to making sure that our players can have every bit of help to make them as successful as they can get. And (that's) up to, and including, helping them continue their college education or taking life-enhancing courses (not necessarily for credit) to refocus, or help them, in better ways.

You mentioned technology. Adam suggested that at the one negotiation meeting you missed, being a little under the weather, you were furiously texting or e-mailing.

A: Yeah.

Are you a Blackberry or …

I'm addicted to my Blackberry. … And I use the iPad vigorously. And of course, once you start on the iPad, you know the iPhone is in your future. Technology is our friend. I was just looking at a program on my additional computer in my office that shows where every home in the world is that is now tuned to NBA League Pass broadband. Even the strength of the Internet service provider that is connecting each of those homes — or yachts — to our offering. It is mind-boggling. It's much more effective than my ability to use and understand the program, but I'm working on it.

Do you use Twitter?

You know, I haven't. After tweeting a bit in an All-Star weekend a few years back, I decided Twitter was something I would enjoy sweeping in terms of seeing what's out there, and I do several times a day. But I don't tweet. I'm not sure there's any great interest in what I eat for lunch. Or even, I'm sure, my spectacular insights, which are interesting to no one but me.

What are you having for lunch today?

A turkey sandwich on seven-grain bread with tomato and mustard.

With the iPad, have you stopped buying books? What is the last book you downloaded and are you reading an actual book?

I did download In the Garden of Beasts (by Erik Larson). I read that on my iPad, which was about the ambassador to Hitler's Germany from the United States. I'm currently carrying around and planning on reading this Steve Jobs book, the biography (by Walter Isaacson), and a book called The City about the invention of modern life that has great, great relevance to us.

On draft night, has anything unusual happened on stage, or is it just a smile and a handshake, put on a hat and be on your way?

The moment that stands out to me the most was someone's hand that I didn't get to shake, which was Yao Ming. The first round of the (2002) draft, the Rockets select Yao Ming and there was Yao Ming in the CNN bureau in Shanghai being interviewed. That was to me, that was like, "OK, it's upon us. We've been talking about globalization." I was with the Phoenix Suns in Italy in '84, the Atlanta Hawks in the Soviet Union in '88. We entertained the Soviet national team and the Italian European champions in Milwaukee in '87. And we had the slew of international games and the Dream Team in '92. But here was just some combination of technology and basketball. You know, "We're beginning the next step of the journey."

When you talk about the international, the globalization of the game, China seems to be well on its way. I know there are pushes in India. Is there a next frontier or is it India it right now?

Actually, the frontier are frontiers that are all worthy of massive investments of personnel and money. That's the opportunity and the task for the next 20 years. India is going to be important. We're experimenting now. We're talking to different parties to see whether we can, by virtue of joint ventures and partnerships, perhaps find a way (so as) not to make the investment of personnel that we're committed to in China. But we're committed to Africa, and we've opened an office in South Africa headed by Amadou Gallo Fall. We've opened an office in Brazil and Mexico.

We're in Russia now. So we're focusing. Together with London, Paris, etc, there's no area that is not ripe for investment and growth. And I think what we're going to be doing is following the developments where hand-held devices formally known as cell phones will be broadband-enabled. So that'll go from a billion of those to 5 billion. And so that will change the development of viewing of our content on a global basis, as well.

When we talked to you at one point before the lockout ended, you said to see the fruits of this new collective bargaining agreement work out the way owners were hoping, it would take two to three years. Is that still the case?

Actually, I said that, but we're actually seeing some green shoots earlier, which I think may actually be contributing to some of the frustration in certain corners. For example, Dallas decided not to renew J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler. That was a strategic decision which I'm sure was impacted by the fact that the season after next, there will be a tax system in place where the fully loaded cost of a $20 million player to a team in the tax will be $65 million. And some of our owners have said where capitol becomes the competitive advantage.

I've asked all my questions. Is there anything you'd like to add that you think is important to the NBA, now, in the future or from the past?

There's probably lots but none that I can think of now. Other than to say that we're going to see full appreciation of the collective-bargaining agreement — from our fan community and the business community — growing as we move from this season to the next and into the future. And that's very meaningful to me. What I didn't emphasize was that it's not just the leveling of the playing field and the contract lengths and the tax. It's also the revenue sharing. Because revenue sharing is going to make sure that teams who may not have the same resources as others … we may have taken away the advantage of great revenues by the leveling process of the tax and the contracts and the cap. But we've also provided for the transfer of funds to the teams at the lower end of the revenue threshold so they can spend more on their players.

23 Feb, 2012

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