Weekly Countown: Stern takes global initiatives all the way to UN
This is the last of a three-part series based on my recent run of interviews with
Today, we take a global view of the NBA, starting with a highly unusual cocktail party two weeks ago to which I was invited, with the unspoken understanding that I refrain from pestering the guests.
The event was held at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 1, a night when the Knicks happened to be roughing up the visiting Suns 126-99. Stern was seated precariously on a tiny round end table wedged into a corner of the two upper-level suites occupied by his party. The ambassadors roamed in and out of the rooms, several of them wearing blue and orange Knicks caps and/or T-shirts.
"The big guy is here too: Secretary-General," said Stern, pointing to the name of
They dined before the game in a private room downstairs amid welcoming speeches by Stern, Knicks owner
"Right here," said Stern, pointing up at a small TV screen on the wall. "We turned up the sound in both suites and we watched it here."
This evening was a prominent example of how fast and far the NBA has surfed the changing global waves, from the Cold War through the Dream Team, and now into this melting-pot arena in which players and UN ambassadors pass by from all corners of the world. As he made the rounds, Stern chatted with the Turkish ambassador about the FIBA World Championships coming next August to his country, and the French ambassador about his 10 countrymen playing in the NBA, and the Nigerian ambassador about the legacy of
"By the way," said Stern, "we've got Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina here too." He looked as happy as a commissioner can be in the midst of a recession, with a potential lockout around the corner.
The girls had been drawn from a variety of provinces. "It was overwhelming to hear the stories of what it took for them to practice, to get everybody under one roof for one night," said Sheppard. "And then for them to go play a game was such an unbelievable undertaking.
"Basketball is not big there, but this was a really big thing to see their amazement at being able to take in an NBA game and watch players play a game these girls know how to play, and to see the skill level. They saw
"I really try to share with a group like this that we all have one thing in common. We all love basketball. You're from Afghanistan, I'm from New Mexico. We have nothing else in common, but when we talk about basketball we all have a lot in common. We all have dreams, we all love the game.
"There's something about that look in the eyes," said Sheppard. "These kids have all seen too much at such a young age."
"I travel about 35-40 percent of the year,"' she said. "During the season, I try to visit each of the  NBA international players." And that appears to be the least complicated of her duties.
It's easy to understand why Bohuny was needed. Consider the larger basketball world Stern sought to invade after he became commissioner in 1984: It was a world of amateur federations and career politicians who claimed to pursue an agenda that transcended profit and loss, and here came young Stern, overseer of the only profitable basketball league on the planet.
Bohuny became his ambassador. She developed relationships with the 213 basketball federations and professional leagues around the world, dissolving the tensions and misunderstandings and creating unlikely partnerships. No executive in American professional sports has a job description quite so nuanced as the NBA's VP of basketball operations-international. Bohuny oversees Basketball Without Borders and other camps and clinics around the world, she works closely with USA Basketball to plan the annual schedule for the Olympic team and she deals with the U.S. government on all kinds of larger basketball initiatives.
The small talk with foreign ambassadors, the goodwill visits by young players from every corner of the planet, the overseas work of NBA players and coaches visiting foreign countries on behalf of Basketball Without Borders -- all of it advances the NBA's mission, as Stern sees it. These non-profit works help introduce the NBA as an American business with interests that go beyond the pursuit of profit. Everyone understands the ultimate goal is to make money -- Stern's plan is to grow revenue from the seeds he has planted around the world -- but the goodwill gestures and the diplomacy of Bohuny and her international staff have helped find middle ground with federations that have no understanding for the bottom-line needs of business.
"We see that as a huge opportunity," said Stern of charitable programs like Basketball Without Borders. "And honestly, our biggest concern is whether we're up to doing justice by it ... It ultimately is good for business. It's a very important thing for our employees, my colleagues. It motivates us in what we can do, it's good for our communities, for our players, our owners and teams."
English soccer clubs are owned by Russians and Americans, in addition to Brits themselves, and Stern envies that model. Not only does it further connect the NBA beyond its American borders, but it opens the league to new waves of cash with the prospect of raising the prices of NBA franchises, much the same as values of English clubs have grown amid the international competition to buy them.
"The second branch of this internationalization issue is now we're in the process of approving a Chinese owner for a limited partnership in Cleveland to become minority owners of the Cavaliers, a Russian owner for a majority share of the Nets, and we have four important Chinese enterprises that have invested in the NBA In China," said Stern, who went on to name all four. "We like the idea that they're becoming more interested in the NBA in the U.S., and that's very consistent with a rise in franchise values."
Last spring, during a trip to Barcelona to write a story on
"Who is your favorite NBA player?" I asked Casspi last week.
"No favorite player," he said. "Not anymore." They are all his rivals now.
Maybe they would yield Thomas in a trade, but only in return for something very good. And maybe they would be interested in Brand, but only if the package would include further cap relief to improve their chances of recruiting
Word around the league is that
Brand won't likely return to his near-MVP level of 2005-06, when he led the Clippers to the second round while averaging 24.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. But he isn't all washed-up either. He doesn't fit with the Sixers' young roster or their style of play, and his onerous contract ($62 million over four years) will prevent Philadelphia from dictating the terms of his trade. But we've seen bad contracts traded many times before, and if Chicago can improve its frontcourt while clearing space, then maybe there will be cause for discussion -- at least, that's what one NBA official suggested to me Wednesday.
I see where you're coming from. But look at it this way: Most established NBA stars, like Terry or Ginobili, aren't willing to come off the bench. Why not reward them for accepting a role that helps the team? This is a nuanced award that recognizes a form of sacrifice that is unpopular, but necessary.
Donaghy may not act like he's grinding an axe, but of course he is. That doesn't change the fact that his allegations should be taken seriously by the league and investigated (whether or not the NBA admits to the investigation) and, if true, prevented from recurring.
A common reaction to my story last week -- in which Stern suggested an open-minded approach to legalized sports gambling -- has been to ask why he would be open to such a thing in the middle of the Donaghy scandal. But I see the other side of it.
When you think about how deeply sports leagues have feared the prospect of a gambling scandal, this was akin to an act of nonviolent terrorism by Donaghy when he bet on (and almost surely fixed) games that he officiated. Now that such an attack has taken place, isn't it Stern's job to reconsider all of his options in order to prevent similar attacks from happening again? I'm with you on this, Eric: I think it would be criminal if Stern didn't reassess his league's relationship with sports betting at this time, given everything that has happened.
Then I read
That weakness influenced Nash to develop his unorthodox style around the basket. Because he continues to jump off the wrong foot, he remains difficult for defenders to read, especially while they're worried about his ready selection of leaners and floaters and passes off the dribble. "You'd never teach a 13-year-old to do a lot of what he does," Suns coach
Amberry was a junior college All-American at Long Beach City College in the 1940s who went on to play briefly in the American Basketball League (which existed before the NBA came to be). Part of Amberry's step-by-step technique was to point his middle finger at the inflation hole, to help him line up the shot while focusing on a detail that fends off the evil counterproductive thoughts. After meeting with Amberry, Ballard tried his checklist -- feet square, three bounces, thumb along the black line of the ball, elbow in, bend the knees and so on and so forth -- and he struggled initially as he found himself thinking too much.
"I did feel like his method was helping me," concluded Ballard, while also acknowledging that NBA players weren't as willing to try the Amberry mantra. Former Bulls coach
"I'm out here shooting threes cold, and you're going to write up the results and I'll be judged by this," said Kerr. "That's actually a lot of pressure."
For a moment, Ballard thought Kerr might be in trouble after missing three of his first six from the floor. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say shooters don't forget how to shoot. And after reading this chapter on shooting, you realize why this is so.
How does a non-NBA player earn the right to run an NBA team? Blazers lead assistant
"In Indiana, we had a 20-minute talk [with the team] and he said, 'This is the last time we're going to talk about injuries, now we're going to go out and play as hard as we can,'" said
• With 20-year-old
I mentioned Westphal's prominent role in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals. Evans replied with a blank stare.
"It's known as the greatest game of all time," I said. "Triple overtime? Garfield Heard and his last shot? You've never heard of it?"
"No," said Evans, smiling politely.
"Anyway, Westphal had a great game that night," I said, and I told him how his coach scored 25 points against his former team, the Celtics, and how creative he was as a finisher around the basket.
"Yeah, he does that a lot in practice," said Evans. "He'll shoot it off the wrong foot and still make it. People say that's the way he played."