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

21 Comments

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.

Report: Rockets signing Bruno Caboclo

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When the Raptors drafted Bruno Caboclo with the No. 20 pick in the 2014 draft, Fran Fraschilla famously declared, “He’s two years away from being two years away.”

If Caboclo is on that timeline, he’ll emerge with the Rockets.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

This is a one-year minimum-salary contract Houston can convert in a two-way deal. It could also include a bonus of $5,000-$50,000 if the Rockets waive him and assign him to their minor-league affiliate.

Caboclo washed out in Toronto and still struggled when receiving more – though still little – playing time with the Kings late last season. Attitude issues with the Brazilian national team don’t engender confidence, either.

But Caboclo is still just 22 and possesses the athletic tools that made him intriguing in the first place. He’s a longshot, but it’s too soon to give up on him completely.

Bucks GM: Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova “really fit way” Budenholzer wants to play

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks got 24.7 percent of their offense from three last season, the third-lowest percentage in the NBA. They were 25th in the NBA in three pointers attempted last season and 22nd in three-point percentage.

That will change with Mike Budenholzer as coach.

Budenholzer, however, cannot shoot threes himself, so GM Jon Horst went out and got big men who can space the floor for Milwaukee: Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. Horst talked about it to the Bucks network at Summer League (in an interview they just posted Sunday):

What’s important is Horst saying this is a team built around Giannis Antetokounmpo and his slashing skill set — teams that just pack the paint to cut off his drives will now face bigs who will make them pay from beyond the arc. The team, as a whole, will be unleashed to play faster, shoot more threes, and Budenholzer also will bring an improved defensive system.

It looks like a big three in the East this season — Boston, Toronto, and Philadelphia — but Milwaukee could be the surprise team to crash the party. They have the top five talent in the Greek Freak, quality players around him such as Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton, and now more depth and shooting. Put all that in a new system with a better Xs and Os coach and… it’s something to watch.

Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, “We are the best team in L.A. for sure”

Associated Press
2 Comments

Summer is the time of irrational confidence.

After missing most of last season due to repair a microfracture and meniscus issue in his right knee, Patrick Beverley is back with the Clippers — and he is not backing down. Sure, he came to the Clippers in a trade that sent Chris Paul away, and in the past six months Blake Griffin was traded and DeAndre Jordan left as a free agent, but Beverley believes in this team. Completely. Like best team in L.A. (LeBron who?) and going to the playoffs completely.

Check out Beverley’s recent comments, via Tomer Azarly.

Let’s hope that Beverley is healthy and back to being himself. The league needs more pesky defenders at the point.

The Clippers could be a playoff team, their lineup isn’t bad: the starters likely are Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat, then off the bench comes Lou Williams (the reigning Sixth Man of the Year), Luc Mbah a Moute, rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Montrezl Harrell. Plus never forget about Boban Marjanovic. Never.

That lineup could put the Clippers in the mix for a playoff spot — if they can stay healthy. And that’s the big key. Beverley is coming off major surgery, Gallinari is often injured and hasn’t played more than 63 games in a season the past four years (just 21 last season), Bradley has battled injuries in recent years, and… you get the idea. Keep the Clippers healthy and they have a shot at the postseason in the deep West, it’s just hard to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point.

And better than LeBron James and the Lakers? Sorry Beverley, you’re going to have to prove that one before I buy in.

Rudy Gay finally feels 100 percent after torn Achilles: ‘I feel athletic again’

Associated Press
2 Comments

Rudy Gay, coming off a torn Achilles in 2017, was not quite his vintage self last season for the Spurs. In the 57 games he played he looked like a solid third option — 11.5 points per game, a surprisingly good defensive rating — but he played fewer minutes than ever before in his career, and he shot just 31.4 percent from three. In the playoffs he showed his importance — the Spurs were 9 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court — but he was never going to make up for what they lacked with Kawhi Leonard out.

Gay is preparing for his next season in San Antonio and told Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News that he is finally healthy.

Everything is clicking,” he said. “I feel athletic again.”

“I’ve been working hard, man,” Gay said at his boys’ high school basketball showcase for East Coast teams he hosts annually. “I lost about five pounds. Last year was a little bit of a struggle for me, so I tried to alleviate that by taking the weight off my feet by losing a couple of pounds through working out and eating better. It’s now or never right now for me.”

Gay is also close to new Spur DeMar DeRozan, and he sees potential there.

“That’s the thing about this whole team – everybody has a chip on his shoulder,” Gay said. “His is just more publicized. But, look, I’m healthy (and have something to prove), LaMarcus (Aldridge) always finds someway to have a chip on his shoulder. Jakob wants to prove he can be a great player. DJ (Dejounte Murray) has a chip on his shoulder because he wants to be known as one of the best at his position.”

The Spurs won 47 games last season essentially without Leonard, and now they sub an All-NBA player in DeRozan into the mix. If Gay is healthy and can be that third option, if the defense stays tight, if Gregg Popovich can work his magic, this is a dangerous playoff team. Not a contender, but are you going to bet against the Spurs making the playoffs?