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Transcript of Commissioner David Stern's press conference

By Official release
Posted Jun 3 2010 11:39PM

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Welcome to The Finals, and thinking about it this afternoon, I've been doing this for well into the fifth decade, and this is about as good a time as any to be an NBA fan. We have had a terrific playoffs thus far. We've seen what you wish for: The passion, the intensity, the team work, the discipline, the sacrifice. We've even seen a little zone. We've seen our coaches adjusting and our coaches readjusting, and we've seen our players and our coaches go deep into the bench, demonstrating how really rich in talent the NBA is. And so out of that cauldron comes another Lakers Celtics Final, so this is pretty exciting. It's really exciting.

You know, the world is tuning in. I don't blame them. These games are going to be shown in the usual 215 countries and territories in 41 languages. We've got 32 foreign media or international media on site, and they came to see what you're here to see, which is NBA basketball at its best played by two worthy teams, coached by two stalwarts and with great anticipation.

That's it. Thank you for coming, and I'm happy to answer any questions.

Q. One of the great figures in basketball right now, I don't know if you've heard, is in the hospital, Coach John Wooden, who has coached many great NBA stars reportedly in very serious condition. Can you talk about your thoughts about Coach Wooden right now and what he has meant to the sport of basketball.

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: You know, we discussed it at length, and we decided that we would not declare his obituary now, other than to say that he's the winningest coach in our history, four 30 0 seasons, and the ultimate aficionado of our game. We hope he's in peace right now, and we'll wait on events.

Q. Just want to get a response to President Barack Obama's recent comment to Marv Albert about his suggestion that NBA teams should lower their ticket prices?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Well, I'm a loyal Democrat so I'd hate to disagree with my president, but we do have a minimum of 500 very low priced tickets in every arena. Our teams have been working hard to have family nights that include not only tickets but hot dogs, soda and the like. We're working very hard to make our games affordable to groups. I know in Dallas it's a $2 ticket, sometimes a $5 ticket, sometimes a $10 ticket. We have them all over the NBA.

The president has a standing invitation. I'm not sure that he would sit in one of those seats.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about the technical foul rule in the postseason, and Doc Rivers keeps saying he doesn't think double techs should count towards that. What's your thought on that?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: I think he has a worthy point that's worthy of consideration. We are where we are now but I'd like to take a look at it between seasons. As much as I hate to agree with Doc, I think he actually has a point.

But we are where we are, and thus far we haven't had anyone miss a playoff game by reaching the technical foul limit, and hopefully our players will exercise the control that this rule is in there to cause them to exercise.

Q. I agree with you the Lakers Celtics is exciting but it also underscores the fact that the majority of Finals appearances and championships have been concentrated among a small number of teams. Is that bad for the league, A? And B, is there anything that can be done about it?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Yeah, we could have taken Bill Russell and Red Auerbach away from the Celtics and deprived Dr. Buss of his ownership of the Lakers. He's been an owner for 30 years and the team has been in The Finals 15 times. You know, you give credit where credit is due, to Russ, to Jerry, to Red. That's what our sport is about. Hats off to the Lakers and the Celtics for being persistent and consistent winners in the league.

Q. Do you think that concentration is a bad thing for the league?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: No, I think it actually acts as an incentive. What do you do? You build? You build through the draft. And then you see these teams and you realize it's not about one player changing teams, it's about creating a team, constructing a team, having the right coach, having a team work together, and having players prepare to sacrifice. And I think that's what we saw in all of the '80s when they were playing each other. When I became commissioner I thought what you did every June is you went from LA to Boston and back again, and it was interesting to watch. And now here we are again.

Lakers have been in three years in a row; Celtics are back for two out of three. And they're not here because of the green and the purple and gold. They're here because of the teams that have been constructed, the coaches that they have and the systems that they have.

Q. You mentioned the millions of people around the world who are going to be watching the series, but beyond this series, in the fall the NBA are sending a number of teams across to Europe to play, including the Lakers will be playing in London, which is my particular interest. I'm wondering how important it is to the NBA to be spreading their brand across the world, and in particular in London, how important might that be?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Well, a couple of things. Number one, the primary way we spread the game not the brand, the game, is television, and that has been aided by the Internet, so actually now there are actually more visits to from outside the U.S. than there are within the U.S. on many days.

Second of all, with the Olympics coming to London in 2012, we think there's an extraordinary opportunity for us to help grow the game. Our fans in the UK, where there will be only one basketball team, unlike in let's say football, what these folks here call soccer. There are three times or sometimes more, three teams at least. So it's important for us to play in London, and I hope to have a regular season game in London in the not too distant future.

Q. How important, how high on the list of your agenda is it to renew the collective bargaining agreement this summer?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: I would say it's No. 1 on our agenda. I'm not sure we'll get it done this summer, but we have until July 1, 2011. It's going to be a very high priority. We've had several meetings. We've provided an enormous amount of information, and we're awaiting response from the Players' Association. As soon as that happens we're going to dig in and get to work.

Q. I'm curious as to what you thought of LeBron James' decision to give his first interview since the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs, right on the eve of your big event, the NBA Finals?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: I don't have a problem with it. It's actually, I think, demonstrates I mean, we're really up there now with Bill Gates, President Obama and Lady Gaga. How can you beat that trifecta, to add LeBron James to that? I thought Larry (King) wearing his sunglasses looked terrific. Of course I'm the demographic. I don't think anyone else here probably watched it, but I did.

It's fine. The same way it's fine to have the president talk to Marv Albert about where LeBron is going or about our game. It's sort of tells me that our players have, through their hard work, captured the imagination of many, many people.

Q. To follow up, I'm just wondering, you've often stated in the past that in your perfect world you'd like to see stars stay with the same team throughout their whole career. I'm wondering if you're troubled in any way that there's so many big names on the market this summer at the same time?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: I'm a recovering single team person. The players have played LeBron will have played with Cleveland for seven years. That's a huge amount of time. Cleveland has been given the edge with respect to the raises they can give him and the length of his contract. I think that's a good thing. And then you just it's up to the players to decide where they want to go. They fought very hard for that right, and I'm perfectly fine with that.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the free agent summit and how the League and the Board of Governors might feel about that strategizing?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: There is no free agent summit.

Q. Some of these players conferred when they signed their most recent contract.

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Our players talk to each other all the time. They talk to each other on Team USA. They talk to each other. I think they have a meeting every year around our draft. I've been assured at the highest level that there is no summit. But I would expect our players to talk to one another, and we don't have any problem with that. If some kind of tampering is implicated, I will have a later and different view, but we're not expecting that.

Q. Last year at this time I asked you about the impact of Jerry Buss, and you talked about him as a pioneer. And now with the Boston Celtics back in The Finals, I would like to ask you about the impact of Wyc Groesbeck since he bought the team in late 2002, his impact on the policy. And also I should add, should the Celtics win the NBA Finals, he would become the youngest NBA owner to win two championships since Jerry Buss achieved the feat in 1982 at age 47, just days before his 40th birthday.

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Thank you for that factoid. I think they've done a great job putting that team together. That's why it's so much fun to watch. To take Pierce and Rajon and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and a seemingly rejuvenated Rasheed and the center position, technicals are not formidable. You've got a great team to put together, and that's exciting. Kudos to them. I'm not going to pick a winner in this one, but certainly Danny Ainge and Wyc Groesbeck and the entire ownership group of the Celtics deserve a great deal of credit for the team that they've put together that's brought them here.

Q. There is no free agency summit, you told them there isn't or they told you?


Q. Would you have told them there isn't?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: No. They can have it. I was wondering whether they would get together, eight players and they'll all look at D Wade's ring? They'd be better off watching these Finals to see how you construct a team and how you play and the like. There's not going to be a summit.

Q. There is a lot of confusion with casual fans about tampering lately, why some things are fineable, why some players can't

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: I'm with you. Those lawyers, we left them back in New York, they're always scrambling for something to spoil our fun. You really don't want to be a complete spoilsport, but you work hard and you say, okay, this crosses the line, and you fine somebody. It's no fun, and it's not necessarily a productive use of our time. But our teams who have these players under contract are easily offended, and appropriately offended when inappropriate statements are made about players already under contract, and that's what we do.

Q. Billy Hunter used the word "baloney" in response to your citing a $400 million loss for the year. Why do you think you're so far apart on that? And how does that impede your ability to move forward?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: I grew up in Stern's Delicatessen. He has his meats mixed. This is substance. We've given him our certified financial statements. We've provided access to our tax returns, and we're awaiting their review of those, and if there's more needed, they'll get more. And then eventually we'll get around to talking about it and we'll work our way through it. But the facts on the ground will be what they are, and we're very comfortable because we've given the Players' Association more financial information than has ever been done in the history of sport.

Q. But if they take a look at all those facts, they take a look at the certifications and they still say, no, we don't believe that

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: It's interesting. I'd like him to tell me that. I've only read it in the paper. We provided all of the documents, all of these things. I guess starting, I think, in August or September and then we gave our proposal in January and now we're told we'll have something in June. And we hope to sit down, because actually at the last meeting they said they had issues with some of our numbers. We said, great, let us know what they are. And we're awaiting that.

So obviously the track is not a fast track with response to the question earlier about what we're going to do this summer, but clearly we're going to aim to get one done for next summer.

Q. The League continually has said that the model has to change economically going forward in the next CBA and yet you have people like Mikhail Prokhorov who's a billionaire buying a team, Ted Leonsis buying a team, you have Michael Jordan buying a team, Larry Ellison is trying to buy the Warriors. It's a bit simplistic but if this is such a bad model, why would people be buying teams?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Actually in some measure because they think we're going to get a new collective bargaining agreement to put it that simple, number one.

Number two, there was some bargains in there with respect to Charlotte. Fair pricing. I think the Warriors probably make some money. We have a broad array of teams. And if somebody asked me whether a team is a good buy, my response is, you'd better hurry up, they're going like hot cakes, and they're going to be even more valuable when we get a system that is even more sustainable.

Q. So in that sense, I mean, if you don't get the CBA that you guys like, would you tell prospective owners don't come here anymore?


Q. I want to ask if you plan to make some changes in the rules, how the NBA teams can acquire international players, mostly European players, not just through the draft and the differences how they can draft them and how they can just send them.

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: That is a subject with respect to which we're in discussions with both FIBA and the Euroleague, because the Euroleague in particular feels that there are players that are drafted so young, and then they come to the NBA, they don't succeed, and when they go back home, they never become the players that their teams had hoped they would become. And they're asking us if there's some way that we could even draft players, but then have a way that they could play with their teams and even be subsidized by those teams for some additional time.

We sit and we listen, and we're going to sort of make a list and see what is and what isn't doable with respect to the next collective bargaining agreement because we have a shared goal, which is to have the players on a global basis develop to the best of their abilities.

Q. Just following, is the Ricky Rubio situation kind of telling you something, something that can move you in some sort of direction?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: No, not really. I remember in 1988 I was in Kaunas, the home of Sarunas Marciulonis and Arvydas Sabonis, and the mayor of the Communist party complained to me that it wasn't fair because Arvydas was on the draft list of the Portland Trail Blazers but the Blazers had no room under the cap, and he was there for a long time, but he finally came.

So we're experienced with players going back and playing, and I know there's some talk about the Brazilian (Tiago) Splitter whose contract is up, and there's all kinds of interesting conversations. But eventually the players will either come or they won't come. And if they have good careers in Europe and they choose that route, I think that's terrific.

Q. Getting back to a couple topics you touched on, you said you think it's a good thing that teams should try to aspire where the Lakers and Celtics are, and with regard to tampering, you think a team expressing a desire to add a two time MVP would be encouraging for their fans

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: They have until July 1st to do that. Talk is cheap. What you've got to do is on July 1st, do you have the cap room? Do you have the pitch ready? Do you want to bring it in? Let's all play by a set of rules. It starts out with teams that are in the playoffs and certain teams feel that their players shouldn't be commented upon because that could be distracting, and so we're worried about that. And so we have a deal with the Players' Association. Free agency July 1st, you can start talking. It's very complex, but we're dancing as fast as we can on a difficult subject.

Q. But does expressing a desire to have that player compromise the home team that much?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Yes, I think it does. I think the players should be allowed to play their games. I think it's great. What's on display here is just what you hope for in sports.

Q. You've been opening books to the union since the '80s. In previous negotiations have you been able to agree on what those figures meant, or do they remain in dispute? Is there like an interpretation problem?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Actually I think I can't define exactly what the issue is because I'm only reading it in learned publications. But we haven't given certified financial statements and tax returns before. We've worked over something called combined financial statements, which we have used to do a variety of things, but which are not as complete as what we have now opted to try to get so we can eliminate it.

Now, I know the players will come in and say, well, it's not about how much you lost, it's not about $400 million. If you take into account the appreciation in your franchises as documented incorrectly in the pages of Forbes, then it's something then. But we don't have owners that are prepared to live off the potential appreciation. They want to have a business.

That's both a good business for the owners and it would be an extraordinary business for the players because our we know how to grow revenues. That's what digital, that's what international are all about, growing revenues. You know, we'll be able we'll know, I guess rather you'll know exactly where the points of contention are about the numbers, and we can't wait.

Q. But in previous negotiations have you been able to agree on what the situation was?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Not to the same extent that we're going to be able to agree this time. The early returns here are that they're trying they're stating they're trying to avoid the facts. In other words, you're not really taking into account this. The numbers may be right, but you're not taking into account that. We can't wait to get it out there. With them, not with you, but with the Players' Association, and their economists and our economists and their accountant and our accountant. There's going to be a lot of meters running.

Q. Phil Jackson said this morning that the League has asked them to stop rewarding players financially for taking charges. I was curious what went into that decision.

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Actually it's against our rules, and so rather than do anything about it now, on the eve of the Finals, we said, how about if you cut it out and we'll discuss it later?

Q. He said it's a common occurrence on a lot of teams.

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Well, you know, it's almost as bad as double technicals, tampering and a lot of other rules that we have, that our teams actually behind closed doors ask us to enforce. And so we are forcing this one by asking them to stop.

Q. Last winter, biggest news in sports were about Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger. I'd like to know your thoughts and your approach on this issue in regards to NBA players, because after Kobe Bryant's chapter, it looks like you are doing very well in this regard?

COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: All I can say is you don't know what's going to be on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. So I take no joy in what happens to another sport, whether it's about a perfect game or an issue of conduct. And I don't pontificate about that. But we do work hard. Our teams all have player development coordinators now. We work very hard with players. We provide lots of support. But that said, there can always be a traffic stop or some immature behavior based upon the age group that you have in professional sports, and that's probably always going to be in professional sports.

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