Out of all the commissioners of the major league sports leagues, David Stern has always stood above as one that has managed well. Perhaps outside of NFL's Roger Goodell, Stern has managed to keep his league on message. There, of course, have been criticisms of how he has managed the Vancouver and Seattle "relocations", but few can argue against Stern's ability to keep the NBA in the minds of young North Americans across both sides of the the 49th parallel.
Would LeBron James be on the cover of GQ had Stern not instituted his dress code policy? Would the NBA have survived the Donaghy scandal relative unscathed if the league were run by Gary Bettman or Bud Selig?
However, the league perhaps faces their most difficult foe. With the current economic recession looming, the NBA is a league that like most others, will have to pay close attention to the business sector. Celebrating 25 years, Commissioner Stern will have to be mindful of the next few years as the league's health will be tested.
During this weekend's press conference, David Stern made many references to the ailing economy being a paramount concern of the league. Contrasting Stern with the likes of a Gary Bettman, Stern at least acknowledges that over the course of his stewardship he has had to weather multiple storms. Currently, Stern points to his existing and extended agreement with ABC, ESPN, and TNT, as well as an increase of viewership during All Star weekend. Giving the press-hard numbers, Stern still showed concern when talking about the league finances and the overall economy, perhaps suggesting a decrease in the salary cap in the upcoming years. Gary Bettman, on the other hand, often mentioned this year about the growth of the league and a lack of immediate concern about the economy. It's for that reason that I'm grateful that David Stern manages our league.
Impressively, David Stern was also joined by the NBA Players Association director, Billy Hunter, perhaps showing the solidarity in facing the upcoming economic challenges and showing a commitment towards working towards a new CBA.
David Stern also addressed both the Atlanta situation and the Sacramento situations, both of which are still reliant on processes outside of Stern's control. In Atlanta's case, the court case seems to be heading towards a decision, which means that the ownership group picture may finally become clear. On the other hand, Sacramento's situation continues to be dicey. In an imitation of the Supersonics fiasco, the Maloof brothers are now proposing a new state-of-the-art stadium with the idea that if the idea is rejected, they will be willing to move the Kings to another city. According to Stern, the proposal is due on Feb 27th which should give us a better picture about the future of the Kings.
But perhaps the most interesting and heartwarming announcement is the change to the NBA Finals MVP Award. In a touching tribute to one of the NBA's former greats, David Stern announced the renaming of the award to the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award. Unlike other leagues like the NFL, the NBA has always embraced their former players and worked to include them in the events of the NBA, especially All-Star weekend. Although Bill Russell never won the MVP award, he probably would have won it had the award been created before his final NBA championship run. In his final year, Bill Russell lost the MVP award when Jerry West won it as part of his futile, yet outstanding performance in the finals. Bill Russell's acceptance of the honour was heart-felt and incredibly heartwarming. Still mourning the recent passing of his wife, Russell reminds us that basketball is a team game first and foremost. Gracious and funny, Russell talked about how he has only worn his hearing aids twice and how he forgot to wear them and left them back at the hotel room so that he wouldn't have to deal with the press. He went on to say that he often didn't wear them because he enjoyed what he didn't hear. It's not all that surprising to see why Bill Russell managed to win 11 rings as his humour and his skill were obvious important aspects of his chemistry with his teammates.
NBA All Star weekend has always been a success for the NBA because it's been developed as a party that celebrates the league. Unlike most other sporting All-Star Weekends, the NBA uses the weekend to celebrate both the past and the present. Past legends often participate in the pre-All Star activities such as judging and skills competitions, while the hottest stars around the league participate in entertaining and athletic events.
Shaq and Kobe made nice to become co-winners of last night's All-Star Game MVP award, Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson continued to show just how "other-worldly" NBA athletes are, and even the lesser-known D-League All-Stars put on a good show - in particular one James White. (Note to Bryan Colangelo, can you PLEASE give this guy a shot for the remainder of the season?)
As a Raptor fan, I hope that one day, the NBA will hold their All-Star game in Toronto. With a city full of enthusiastic fans, I feel that All-Star weekend will do a lot to educate the growing youth fan population about the NBA and its vast history. We often forget that the Raptors are a 14-year franchise and that many of the fans that have been fostered over the years are still growing up in school. To know the history of the NBA is to know just how many greats have come before. Sure, there are champions like Bill Russell who have won more championship rings than he has fingers, but there are many more great players that have never won a single thing. It's why competing for a title is so special and that we have to understand that the process is not always a straight line.
Here's hoping that the Raptors will one day have their own legends at the All-Star Game.