In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, David Stern put on the old jousting tights and once again decided to do a little dance around the media. In a wide ranging interview, Stern discussed his relationship with ownership, old and new, the effect of the lockout on injuries (surprise, he says there isn’t one), and most notably, the “trend” of players leaving small markets for larger ones. Stern, for his part, focuses in on Miami, and assert it isn’t a market issue, it’s a sunshine issue. Really. And that Orlando is a big market. Really.
Orlando Sentinel: When I asked you on Christmas night in Oklahoma City how you wanted the Dwight Howard situation to play out, you said, basically, that players who had put in their time in the league have the right to play where they want. They’ve earned the right to become free agents. But lets say Howard does leave Orlando for a larger market. Are you concerned that there will be a perception in small- and medium-sized markets that the teams there will not be able to hold onto their stars?
David Stern: Only to the extent that theyre fed by journalists like you. I dont remember Miami ever being referred to as a “large market.” Do you?
Stern: Stop right there, then. But, now, because a couple of players decided to go where the sun shines, thats now a large market. Well, guess what: Orlando, to my mind, is a large market even though you refer to it as a “small market.” Its up there in the top 10 in revenues. It has actually pretty much close to the same sunshine that Miami has, and its a preferred place for so many people to live in the middle of their careers and after their careers are over. So I think theres a small-market sort of point of view sometimes that people have a defensiveness [about]. But, to me, Orlandos a great market, and it seems to be a great place to live.
OS: With Chris Paul going from New Orleans to Los Angeles, do you not see a trend? And Carmelo [Anthony] going from Denver to New York?
Stern: Well see. But the one thing I can say to you is that the new collective bargaining agreement will speak to that with each passing year more forcefully, because what I also said to you when last we met was that as the new tax levels become effective, there will be a limitation on what any team can add. And those levels actually will hit small- and large-market teams alike, because the question is not the size of your market. Its going to be the size of your payroll.
So if Orlando is the same or better market size than Miami (and it is, by most metric counts), and has the same advantages, what is Stern pinning the failures of Orlando to keep its stars on?
But let’s leave that one.
Stern’s a cage fighter and just when you think you have him, he’s not only not in the corner anymore, he’s behind you and you’re feeling an odd feeling dripping down your leg.
It’s interesting to see him in the course of answering the same series of questions deny that there is a problem, and state that the problem, which doesn’t exist, mind you, is resolved by the new CBA. They approved a new CBA and Chris Paul wound up in Los Angeles. Dwight Howard is, in all likelihood, going to be in Los Angeles or Brooklyn next year (outside shot at Dallas, you know, that small township that Dallas is). But what may be more stunning is not just his verbal gymnastics, but the fact that after the lockout and everything we’ve learned… I agree with him.
After years of feeling that small markets were at as structural disadvantage, it’s become clear that there is an inherent disadvantage in the perception of these cities. 18-26 year-old NBA athletes don’t find Milwaukee or Orlando or Utah “cool.” L.A. is cool. New York is cool. Chicago is cool. And while these players want to win, the ability of those cities to draw other great players based on those advantages provides the excuse needed to buy into living somewhere nicer. Maybe Oklahoma City is providing a counter to that. But the fact that Stern is able to justifiably pull that there is nothing flawed in a system where Orlando is set to lose two franchise players in under 15 years is going to be an issue in this league, unless the tax escalations coming actually do have the intended effect. Until then, it’ll be Stern, sticking and moving his way through the same question with nary a blow taken.
The Sentinel does a good job of pursuit, though, and the interview is well worth the read.