Thoughts on the NBA Draft..

commentary 6-28


Last night’s NBA draft, was steeped in history, history worth reviewing.  For the 30th and final time as commissioner David Stern oversaw the draft and the final first round pick he called was, fittingly, one for the history books.  UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, who went to the Cleveland Cavaliers, is the first Canadian player ever chosen number one overall, bringing symmetry to Stern’s tenure.  The first number one pick he ever called, in 1984, was Hakeem Olajuwon, who went on to lead the Houston Rockets to back to back NBA titles while claiming back to back finals MVP honors before going into the hall of fame.  Following Stern and Olajuwon into the NBA, in short order, were Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who became  godsends for the new commissioner, their presence alone helping him establish the NBA among the premier professional leagues in the world.  Stern’s history with the NBA long predated his ascension to the commissioner’s job.  His tenure began in 1966 as the league’s outside council.  12 year’s later he officially became a league insider as general counsel and in 1980 he was promoted to the position of executive vice president under commissioner Larry O’brien.  It was during his tenure in that position that the NBA, with Stern as the point man, instituted two milestone programs, a salary cap, which was more accurately a revenue sharing program that basically made the owners and players partners in the business, and drug testing, which was primarily instituted to deal with the perception that every player in the league was using some form of drugs.  Whether or not that perception was a reality, the program also demonstrated to the public that the NBA was cleaning itself up.  By the time O’brien announced his retirement it was already a foregone conclusion that Stern would be the successor.  In assessing the league on his assension to the commissioner’s role Stern found that only about a half dozen of his teams were making money and the players were making more money than the owners, a situation, he told the players, which would eventually lead to fewer teams and fewer jobs, convincing them to become more hands on with their half of the ownership responsibility.  Among the landmark decisions to save teams money was one in which teams would be responsible for coach travel only, players who wanted to travel first class assumed the difference themselves.  Little things like that brought the players and owners closer as partners, making the league much more solvent, bringing it in line with the NFL in terms of secured profits.  It was Stern who approved the creation of the WNBA, with NBA partnerships and funding, and saw it through to it’s current, self reliant status as the longest tenured women’s professional basketball league in U.S. history.  His tenure wasn’t without a controversy or two.  Some argued he became too involved in the sales of certain franchises, particularly with the league’s take over of the New Orleans Hornets before brokering a private sale, and he was often criticized for favoring the New York Knicks and their market over other franchises.  One of the more famous incidents cited involved a dog-eared envelop picked from the draft lottery bin that gave the number one pick, and Patrick Ewing, to the Knicks.  Ewings presence in New York, even the cynics will argue, was a boon for the entire league.  However he did it, David Stern knew what he was doing and when he officially retires next February 1st he’ll be able to say he left the league much better than he found it and even his critics will have to say the NBA is much better off for having had David Stern as it’s commissioner.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.



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