Looking back, Stern says “Malice in the Palace” was hardest thing he faced

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David Stern has seen a lot in 30 years as NBA Commissioner. Remember two years before he took over NBA Finals games were recorded then shown after your local news at night. NBA playoff games were tape delayed up through 1986.

Now franchise valuations are way up, the NBA is a billion dollar business and Stern helped market and guide that. He is deservedly going to get a lot of accolades over the next four months.

But it wasn’t all rainbows and puppies — there were some hard times. Stern was on the John Feinstein Show on CBSSports Radio and talked about those dark days and what was the darkest of them. (hat tip and translation courtesy Eye on Basketball):

“Whether it’s Tim Donaghy, whether it’s Magic Johnson being HIV positive, or Ron Artest going into the stands, or Latrell Sprewell deciding it would be a good idea to strangle his coach or Gilbert Arenas bringing a gun into the locker room, I see that as, those crises have to be managed.”

Which one was toughest?

“Each one kept my up in its own way,” Stern said. “But the brawl that happened between the Pistons and the Pacers provided much of the media in the course of that weekend to use the words ‘thugs’ and ‘punks’ with respect to all of our players which to me is freighted with respect to what they’re really saying and brought up visions of the way the media treated us a decade or more earlier.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the marketing guru, the guy most concerned about the NBA brand, found that the most troubling times. Pacers players went into the stands to fight Pistons fans. It was a terrible black eye for the league — players fighting fans. As he said, it gave an avenue for those who hate the NBA and their players, whatever their reason, to go on the attack. To paint all the players with a broad brush.

Spreewell and Arenas, those are workplace issues (you can’t bring a gun into your office, Arenas can’t into a locker room). Magic’s HIV ended up with him helping change perceptions about the disease.

But there was no good out of the Malice in the Palace. It was just a mess.