As David Stern leaves Commissioner’s office the only comparison is Pete Rozelle

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When you watch the Super Bowl this weekend, you are watching a game and a league that is the legacy of Pete Rozelle. He not only oversaw the creation of the Super Bowl, he created Monday night football, he changed the marketing of the game, most importantly he pushed through congress a bill that legalized single-network contracts for pro sports leagues — the NFL could negotiate for all its teams, not have them work individually. That changed the finances of the league (and its owners). Rozelle laid out the blueprint for today’s NFL.

David Stern took that blueprint and expanded on it to create today’s NBA — for that Stern should go down as one of the two greatest professional sports commissioner ever. Rozelle is the only other guy on Stern’s level, and Stern built upon what Rozelle had done.

Stern steps down from his office Saturday after 30 years as NBA Commissioner. Adam Silver steps into his hard-to-fill shoes.

When you watch the NBA All-Star Game and the weekend of events Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans, know that was David Stern — the idea of having a dunk contest and other events around the game was something he pushed from the day he took over in 1984. Know that when you watch a mid-season nationally televised game Friday night — where highlight packages and conversation before and after the game happens on ESPN and other outlets — that was David Stern’s vision.

Stern certainly wasn’t perfect — he was a cult of personality that led to two destructive lockouts, plus he already had a foundation to change the league put in place by others when he stepped in the door in 1984. You can make the case that he is more Bill Gates than Steve Jobs — he didn’t create new and innovative things, he just better exploited the market for those things.

Still, the NBA is in a far better place now because of him.

Far, far better.

Stern eventually came to understand the NBA’s advantage was that you could see and know it’s athletes — Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan did not have their faces hidden by helmets. You could get to know them, their personalities. It may have taken the transcendence of Michael Jordan hitting him over the head to get him to see it, but Stern came to understand the value of marketing stars — where the NFL could sell teams, the NBA could promote personalities. Hand in hand with its sponsors.

Stern was handed those personalities on a silver platter, but he understood how to promote those personalities and the game. He and the NBA were light years ahead of other leagues on this.

Stern embraced cable television — and down the line the Internet — more quickly and more deftly than other leagues. He understood that it was good to broaden the reach of the league, and with that the reach of the sponsors.

It all worked. And Stern got to keep doing it — and had the unwavering support of the old-line owners — because he made them a lot of money.

When Stern took over 1984, league revenues were $165 million a year, they are now at $5.5 billion a year. Those increasing revenues trickled down the players — the average player salary in 1984 was $290,000, it is now $5.7 million. The main ingredient behind that growth was the national television deal, which in 1984 netted the league $28.5 million total and is now is $937 million (and about to go up under a new contract). The NBA became the international brand for the best level of basketball, popular in Europe and China and all around the globe.

When Stern took over the game was battling the image of being a league where most of the players were using hard drugs — drug testing was already in place when Stern stepped in, but he and his staff worked hard to change that image. Same with the notion that the NBA was a “black” league that white America didn’t watch. The numbers showed that wasn’t true, especially as the NBA’s brightest stars became some of the biggest in sports, yet Stern had to work to overcome that with networks and sponsors.

Stern had been handed some ready-made stars to help change the league’s image in Magic and Bird — a natural rivalry of cities and styles — but he put in place the infrastructure the league needed to take advantage of their opportunities. That grew with Jordan. Soon companies that wanted nothing to do with the NBA before – Gatorade, Coca-Cola, etc. — were on board.

Stern’s legacy is not a simple one, not a clean one. Often unnoticed was that Larry O’Brien and Larry Fleisher did the hard work of laying the foundation for Stern. Critics can and do point to the NBA’s two lockouts under Stern, which not only hurt the reputation of the league (but ended with the owners making a larger cut of the league’s money) but also altered the lives of people who count on the NBA for their livelihood — people who sell concessions at games, who own the bar across the street from the arena, who get paid low wages as it is to clean up the arena after the fans leave and now had fewer days to work. All of that would be right.

For better or worse — and it is mostly better — the NBA today is made in the image of David Stern. And in that image the NBA has grown from a league where its finals were shown on Saturday afternoons or during the week tape-delayed to be shown after the prime-time shows and local nightly news, into one of the biggest sports in the world.

Now every NBA playoff game is broadcast on national television and the Finals are a ratings bonanza (especially when the biggest stars are part of it). It makes everyone a lot of money.

That’s David Stern’s real legacy.

The only other commissioner who changed his sport that like that was Pete Rozelle. Stern built on what he did, and the game will not be quite the same without him.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas undergoes surgery on dislocated thumb, out a month

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It was clear it was bad when it happened. Not because of the violence of the play by Draymond Green — no foul was called, and the hand is part of the ball by rule in these cases — but because of Jonas Valanciunas‘ reaction. The man was in a lot of pain.

With 8 minutes to go in the second quarter of the Raptors win Wednesday night, Valanciunas got the ball with Green on him and decided to back down the smaller player, Green reached in and swiped down knocking the ball away but getting Valanciunas’ hand in the process.

Thursday the Raptors announced that Valanciunas had surgery on his dislocated left thumb and will be out at least a month.

This is a blow to the Raptors’ frontline depth, although they still have plenty of talent up front. Serge Ibaka starts most nights at center, and at times the Raptors go small and put breakout player Pascal Siakam at the five. However, Valanciunas is their matchup for other bigger, more traditional centers, or sometimes coach Nick Nurse tries him to force a mismatch. Valanciunas is averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a night playing nearly 19 minutes a night, the Raptors defense is 3 points per 100 possessions better, and the Raptors outscore opponents by 5.4 per 100 when he is on the court. It will not be easy to fill his minutes.

The Raptors are 23-7 and the team in first place in the East having just knocked off the Clippers and Warriors in back-to-back nights on the road. They look like contenders, but they could use Valanciunas to help them get through the regular season (he’s harder to play in the postseason, but we’re not there yet).

 

Hornets owner Michael Jordan: Smacking Malik Monk was ‘tap of endearment’

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Hornets owner Michael Jordan smacked guard Malik Monk on the back head of the head, because Monk prematurely ran on the court to celebrate Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner against the Pistons last night. Charlotte received a technical foul for having too many men on the court, but held on for the victory.

Zach Aldridge of WCCB:

Some people took affront to Jordan putting his hands on Monk – to the point Jordan explained himself.

Associated Press:

Hornets owner Michael Jordan says lightly smacking the back of second-year guard Malik Monk’s head in closing seconds of Wednesday night’s win against the Pistons was a “tap of endearment.”

The Hornets owner, says “It was like a big brother and little brother tap. No negative intent. Only love!”

I doubt any other NBA owner could have gotten away with that.

But Jordan isn’t any other NBA owner.

He’s a former player, widely respected as the greatest of all-time. He’s black. He’s just 55, younger than most of his owner peers.

Jordan and Monk can relate in a way other owners and players can’t.

The power dynamic still isn’t balanced. Jordan is Monk’s boss. When initially watching the exchange, I worried Jordan crossed a line.

But both Jordan and Monk laughed it off. I believe this truly was acceptable in the context of their relationship.

LeBron James on consideration given to signing with Rockets: ‘Not much’

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For a while, it seemed LeBron Jamesfinalists in free agency last summer were the Lakers, Cavaliers, 76ers and Rockets.

LeBron obviously signed with the Lakers. Cleveland remains special to him. His agent met with Philadelphia.

And then there’s Houston.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Rockets – led by Chris Paul – reportedly recruited LeBron hard.

But LeBron reportedly previously said he didn’t like Houston as a city, and at this point, it’s impossible escape lifestyle as a key consideration for the superstar. He clearly enjoys Los Angeles.

I doubt LeBron regrets dropping the Rockets from consideration early. The main appeal would have been their direction path to championship contention, but they’ve been the NBA’s most disappointing team this season.

Which makes it even easier for LeBron to dismiss his Houston consideration.

2018 NBA playoff teams get new alternate jerseys (photos)

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Did your favorite team or player make the playoffs last season?

Well, someone thinks that might have you invested enough to buy yet another jersey.

Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated:

The Bucks jersey is the best – despite the advertisement patch intruding on the otherwise minimalist look. Milwaukee would be the runaway winner without the ad.

As is, I also really like the Pelicans, Pacers and Heat. I suspect Miami’s fuchsia Miami Vice edition will draw the most attention.

A few of these are rather plain, and that’s always disappointing in an alternate jersey. But I particularly dislike the Cavaliers and Spurs jerseys.