AS THE elevatordoors open on the Manhattan skyscraper's 15th floor, you almost expect to seestaffers at NBA headquarters throwing confetti and wearing party hats. Theyhave much to celebrate--an attractive Finals matchup, postseason TV audiencesthat are significantly larger than in recent seasons and near-daily bouquetsfrom the media for rules changes that have led to a more free-flowing style ofplay.
The view fromDavid Stern's office hasn't been this sunny in years. When the commissioner satdown with SI's Phil Taylor before the Finals, he discussed topics ranging fromthe the league's resurgence to what he wants to do when his tenure ascommissioner is finished.
SI: A year agothe NBA was struggling to overcome the damage done by the 2004 brawl at ThePalace of Auburn Hills. Can you give the Comeback Player of the Year award tothe entire league?
DS: We've had avery good year. Our players deserve it. There have been some less than goodyears. This is a year where our players' passion for the game has been ondisplay as well as their respect for the game. It's been a watershed year forpeople who had perhaps moved away from us. They're coming back and saying,"Now I remember why I was an NBA fan." I think they were a bitdistracted by off-the-court activities and the publicity attendant to suchactivity.
SI: One of theways in which the league has tried to change the way fans view the players iswith the dress code. Some would say that just reinforced stereotypes--that ajacket and collared shirt indicates "nice guy," and baggy jeans andbaseball caps turned sideways indicates "thug."
DS: Maybe it did.Look, last season's altercation in Detroit gave every newspaper writer, everysports-talk host and every call-in person the opportunity to generalize andcall every NBA player thugs and punks. If you acknowledge that's what was goingon, the question becomes, What can we do to help our players show who theyreally are? And one of the answers may be, Let's eliminate the issue of dress,O.K.? [The guidelines] may seem small, insignificant, and they probably are,but the feeling was, Let's get rid of the symbolism.
SI: How manyviolations have there been?
DS: Aninsignificant number. One team called to say the hotel laundry didn't returntheir player's suit, could we not fine him. Of course we're not going fine him.Actually what has happened is that our players have gone so far beyond thedress code that it's been fun to watch them. They decided this would be anopportunity to go out and get new threads. Shaq's my favorite. I love his hat.Gotta get that hat.
SI: Have therules changes accomplished everything you wanted?
DS: I think[they] even made coaches reconsider the type of player that they wanted. In anisolation offense you could probably suffer a player who couldn't shoot becausehe became less relevant, as long as he could rebound and play defense. Now it'sprobably a pretty good idea to have five guys who can put the ball in thehoop.
SI: Any otherchanges you'd like to see?
DS: I still thinkwe should have eliminated basket interference. That's just as a fan. I have noknowledge whether it would be a disaster or not. I think it's kind of neat. Itwould change the dynamic about rebounding. It's just a thought.
SI: Let's talkabout officiating.
DS: Do we haveto?
SI: There's aperception that violations like traveling and palming aren't called nearly asoften as they should be. Is that fair?
SI: Is it goingto be addressed?
DS: It is beingaddressed. I'd say the number of traveling calls has increased.... We now havean observer at every game who charts the [refs]. He then goes home and watchesthe tape to confirm his analysis. His report is reviewed by a group supervisor.The referee looks at the very same game. The conclusions about it are analyzedstatistically. The oversights and the particularly good calls are put on thereferees' website for distribution the next day. Meetings are held where thesegames and calls are reviewed by the referees under the jurisdiction of thegroup supervisor, and the referees get midseason reviews and postseason reviewswhere they're ranked and rated by the coaches, general managers and leagueoffice. They are the most metricized employees in America.
SI: Is there ascenario that would make you choose to get involved in the Knicks'problems?
DS: (Longsilence.) I mean, you know, there's a cycle. Some teams are luckier, some teamsare not. Some teams are better managed, some teams are not. It happens. Thecommissioner's office under Larry O'Brien when I was general counsel intervenedin Cleveland when there was a belief [that the Cavaliers] were stripping theirteam of valuable assets, and I intervened in a court dispute between ownershipgroups in the Atlanta situation [last August]. Those would seem to define theappropriate points of intervention. Because actually there are 29 teams thatare perfectly at peace with New York's situation.
SI: Is there agreater need for a large-market team like New York to be at leastcompetitive?
DS: Nope. I'mconsistent on that one. Last month nba.com had 30 million streams of video.When a great shot gets taken or a great play gets made, it doesn't matter whatmarket it's in. It's going to be covered. Things are changing. For example, ifI were a betting man, I would bet the networks would choose to put on themaximum number of Cleveland games next year because of a certain young man whoplays there. And I bet there will be a lot of Phoenix games. Those are tworelatively small markets. Yes, there'll be Dallas games and Miami games, butthere may also be some Oklahoma City games because Chris Paul's a fascinatingathlete to watch.
SI: You've beencommissioner for 22 years. When you finally do leave this job, what will youdo?
DS: I'm still alawyer. Without airing my political views, there some terribly importantissues, injustices and inequalities that the world needs to address. And Ithink those would interest me greatly. Or maybe I'll write for SportsIllustrated. I have my eye on [Rick] Reilly's job.
SI: There was areport that you contacted Knicks' owner James Dolan about how to revive thefranchise.
For more of Phil Taylor's interview with David Stern, go to SI.com/nba.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH