Ski in, ski out: NBA commissioner makes stop in Denver Q&A: David Stern

NBA commissioner David Stern was moving gingerly as he made his way around Pepsi Center on Wednesday.

A couple days of skiing in Snowmass will do that to anyone, let alone a 69-year-old with creaky knees.

“If you see me limping out, it has nothing to do with falling,” Stern told reporters before the Denver Nuggets faced the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The commissioner took some time out of his ski vacation to check in on the local basketball team and watch some hoops in one of his favorite NBA cities.

As part of his itinerary, he sat down with to discuss a variety of topics, including his connection with the Mile High City, Nuggets coach George Karl and his love for the game after 28 years in office.

Q: You took over as NBA commissioner shortly after the 1984 All-Star Game played at McNichols Arena in Denver. For that reason, will you always have a special connection to the city?
A: I will. Truth be told, the way it worked is that (All-Star Weekend) was the last three days in January and then on Monday Feb. 1, we went back to the office and I was commissioner. We said, ‘What do we do now?’ Also, that was when we started with All-Star Saturday. We started with an old-timers game and we stopped that because our insurance policy wouldn’t cover all the ACLs that were being popped. I remember it to this day, sitting around the lobby of the Brown Palace (Hotel) and thinking good thoughts. It’s really a very special place in my heart.

Q: Aside from the All-Star game, did you have some good memories of McNichols Arena?
A: I’m very old-fashioned and feeling more so every day. I liked McNichols. I liked the old Boston Garden. I liked Chicago Stadium. Those were three of my favorite buildings. But progress. Time marches on.

Q: Colorado has some of the best snow in America. How often are you able to take advantage of it?
A: We have a place in Snowmass. I try to ski. My wife is a far better skier and stronger skier than I am. But we come out as many times a year as we can.

Q: Let’s talk about the Nuggets. They are trying to win a little differently this season, with a deep roster but no All-Star representative. How important is it for the league’s long-term growth for a smaller market team such as Denver to have success?
A: I think there’s always been a different way to win. In some cases, the appreciation for the player comes after the team has won. But I think coach Karl is a great coach. If he gets a healthy roster of your deep and talented team, they’ll acquit themselves very well in the playoffs.

Q: You and coach Karl have both been in the league since the mid-80s. How would you describe your relationship with him and where does he rank among the all-time great NBA coaches?
A: He’s much older than I am (laughs). He’s an NBA treasure. I know he coached in Europe. I think he coached in the CBA. I’m one of those crazy people that used to follow those teams. Honestly he probably understands the world of basketball including Europe and the minors – both of which we’re trying to develop always. So he’s a fixture in our league and it’s good to have him and it’s good to have him healthy.

Q: NBA fans have been able to go behind the scenes with the Nuggets this year on NBA TV. Have you watched The Association this season, and if so, what’s your armchair review?
A: I don’t have time to watch it when it’s on but I get the DVD, and when I get a chance, I flip it in. It’s good stuff. NBA Entertainment has a bunch of (employees) who love this game so intensely and are so proactive in wanting to show everything about it. It couldn’t be a better marriage.

Q: Former Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo is working for you as a global ambassador. How’s he doing?
A: Dikembe is an arduous worker. We have sent him to the four corners of the globe and he just says, ‘Where now?’ and just does it. He has been a terrific ambassador for us.

Q: Fun question: I’m the commissioner of a 20-team fantasy baseball league that includes former Nuggets coach Doug Moe. How do I keep the owners in line if they start to get unruly?
A: Doug? Talk to (his wife) Jane. He can be dealt with.

Q: The Nuggets, like many NBA teams, employ interns at various levels of administration. What’s your advice for young people hoping to continue a career in the NBA?
A: Just become great at whatever small or medium thing you do and keep your eyes open. This is a much-interlocked place. There’s a great cadre of young people who are true believers who knock themselves out to know everything they can about the NBA. My best advice is to watch the game. It’s a great game. No matter what you do – public relations, accounting, legal – stay connected to the game as well because it’s what brings us all together.

Q: Do you still enjoy the game as much as you did 28 years ago?
A: It’s great fun. Even more. You begin to see its breadth and its scope and its global appeal and you understand what it has the capacity to do both by bringing people together and focus on the good causes that our teams do.