Former NBA Commissioner David Stern shot off his mouth much to NOLA’s dismay
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated released a story on former NBA Commissioner David Stern. To say the article had some hot takes would be putting it mildly. But one part of the article has stood out. National and local media have been flabbergasted on how Stern answered reporter Chris Ballard’s question on why Stern wouldn’t allow the New Orleans Hornets (since renamed Pelicans) to trade Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, when the all-star point guard made clear he wanted out of the Crescent City to pursue a championship with another team. Rather than taking the high road and saying he didn’t believe the trade was in the best interest of the franchise, Stern attacked the team’s general manager, Dell Demps.
To fully understand the situation the team was in requires a bit of explaining the backstory. In April 2010, former Hornets’ majority owner George Shinn was in financial trouble and had to sell his share of the franchise. He tried to make a deal with Gary Chouest, who had a 25 percent interest in the team, but the deal fell through. Shinn’s economic situation was so bad that he had to give up the franchise. Rather than selling it to another individual, the NBA was purchased the team for an estimated $300 million. While serving as commissioner, Stern filled in as de facto owner of the team while the league looked for someone to purchase the franchise. All of the team’s front office management was kept in place.
During this time, several teams were interested in Paul. The Lakers offered a trade that Demps agreed to, but Stern wouldn’t approve it. A short time later, the Los Angeles Clippers put a trade package together that Stern approved. With that, the Hornets lost their best player and entered an uncertain time rebuilding the roster without a true, independent owner.
At the time and through today, a majority of basketball analysts and experts have argued the Hornets would have been better off accepting the Lakers’ offer.
When Ballard asked Stern about the Paul trade for the article, Stern said, “I didn't do a great job of explaining it at the time. There was a trade that [New Orleans GM] Dell Demps wanted us to approve and I said heck no, but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it and he didn't. I said no. We just settled a lockout and you want me to approve a basketball trade?”
He went on to say, “[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that…. And the next trade was [to the Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis."
He continued, “I did it because I was protecting the then Hornets…. To this day everyone always asks me, 'Well why did you keep Chris Paul from going to the Lakers?' I didn't keep him. I didn't approve the trade. No team sells or trades a future Hall of Famer without the owner signing off, and I was the owner's rep. But I wasn't going to hand up Dell Demps.”
Again, a majority of basketball analysts and experts believe the franchise would have been better off accepting the Lakers’ offer.
So why did Stern attack Demps?
Ballard seems to answer the question throughout the article – Stern is a man who wants to be in control. Examples are littered throughout the piece:
- When Stern retired as NBA commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014, the job was “handed the job to his hand-picked successor, Adam Silver.”
- If Stern has an issue with Silver, he’ll “pick up the phone at midnight and call.”
- When people refer to Stern as retired, Ballard writes, “Stern will explain with exasperation, as if you are a third-grader who forgot his homework yet again, all he did was step down.”
- The writer also says in 30 years as commissioner, “Stern often played the role of emperor.” Sources described him as “abrasive” and “a yeller.” One even said when Stern self-reflects, he says, “I terrorize.” At one point in the article, Stern gloats about getting a USA Today reporter fired from his job, “because he wrote ‘the most horrible things about some of our people.’ Recalls Stern, ‘He said, 'You got me fired didn't you?' And I said, 'Yes, and I'm proud of it. I'd do it again.' There is a family. We call it the NBA family and we really, we live it.’” (Funny, but isn’t Demps part of the NBA family?)
- Fans who comment on the NBA on Twitter he calls, “the great unwashed.”
- Today, Stern is a senior adviser for New York City-based venture capital firm Greycroft. Ballard says he keeps the same work schedule and attitude as he did as head of the NBA and quotes him telling one person he works with to ‘shut up, shut up, shut up,’ while holding up his right hand like a stop sign. To another, he says, “Say the right thing, or I'm going to beat the crap out of you.”
- The crux of the article comes near the end, when the author writes, “The reason he didn't change tracks after leaving the NBA is because what he really wanted to do was what he'd already been doing, what he'd always wanted to do, what he will always want to do. Be in charge. Be the smartest guy in the room. Get involved in other people's business before they get involved in his.”
Ballard quotes the CEO who was warned to “say the right thing,” as saying Stern has “an uncanny ability to know exactly what your button is and push it while he's laughing and you're laughing, and then you're like, ‘He just punched me in the face!’”
To which Stern responds, “I'm just trying you help you be the best you can be!”
This is the behavior of a bully, an abuser with unchecked power.
He doesn’t talk about the black-eyes the game received under his leadership – Latrell Sprewell choking his head coach P.J. Carlesimo, or Ron Artest going into the stands to fight a fan, or referee Tim Donaghy betting on games.
Instead, he attacks people below him.
Stern’s job as commissioner was to make the NBA the best and most lucrative it could possibly be. When he took over as “owner representative,” a job that required making the Hornets the best and most lucrative it could possibly be, he had a conflict of interest. When Stern thought he wasn’t in control of making the Paul trade, he nixed it. Results be damned. While he thought the team could have gotten a better return for Paul, a better offer wasn’t presented. That left the team taking ultimately less, and entering the uncertainty of trying to rebuild while still establishing itself in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Now, he not only blames Demps for the Paul trade, but throws a Molotov cocktail, saying Demps may lose Davis in the near future, in what is an uncannily similar situation to the position the team faced with CP3.
Notice, he doesn’t mention the establishment of large-market super teams creating near All-Star squads to the detriment of small-market franchises that happened under his watch.
In the years since Stern retired as NBA commissioner, he has stayed out of public view. If he believes he is a patriarch figure, who should be protecting the league and those associated with it, he has a strange way of voicing it. It would be better for himself and all involved if he were to retreat to the shadows, take his own advice to shut his mouth and retire.