Magic Johnson at 1992 NBA All-Star game, selected by David Stern
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Magic Johnson memorializes David Stern: 1992 All-Star Game ‘saved my life’

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NEW YORK — David Stern was remembered Tuesday as a mentor and a leader, a Little League parent and a loyal friend.

To Magic Johnson, he was an angel.

Johnson tearfully recalled Stern’s firm support after the Hall of Fame player learned he had HIV, and how it was the former NBA commissioner allowing him to play in the 1992 All-Star Game despite some players’ fears that kept his spirits up during the darkest time of his life.

“That game saved my life,” Johnson said.

Johnson was one of the speakers at a memorial service for Stern, who died Jan. 1 at age 77 after suffering a brain hemorrhage a few weeks earlier.

Radio City Music Hall was filled with what Commissioner Adam Silver called one of the greatest collections of basketball talent in one location, from mighty big men Bill Russell and Yao Ming to dazzling distributors such as Johnson and Isiah Thomas.

They listened to stories hailing Stern not only for his brilliance as a businessman, but for his commitment to social responsibility and his love of his family. Speakers, ranging from colleagues in the league to friends from before he arrived there, talked of how Stern would help people arrange doctor’s appointments and score All-Star tickets, and how he loved to offer his assistance – especially, Silver noted, when it hadn’t been asked.

Stern spent 30 years as commissioner, the league’s longest-serving leader, and Silver noted that few people in the room would have had the opportunities they did in life without Stern, whose longtime office at NBA headquarters was just a block away.

“He belongs on this big stage,” Silver said. “He changed the world.”

The 2+-hour ceremony began with Silver and ended with remarks by Stern’s two sons. Eric Stern revealed his father’s love of crude jokes, while older brother Andrew recalled how Stern refused to part with his wood-paneled station wagon, even long after he could afford BMWs.

They both noted Stern’s desire to be at their events, even if long hours at the office meant he had to miss the beginning.

Of course, not everybody saw that side of Stern. Few escaped a foul-mouthed tirade if they didn’t meet Stern’s high expectations, and Pat Riley got tongue lashings and fines for criticizing referees, saying Stern would constantly tell him he needed to be better.

Making things better was a mission of Stern’s. The more the NBA grew and the further its reach expanded, the more that Stern insisted it increase its commitment to help others. Pictures and videos shown before the speakers seemingly depicted as much footage of NBA Cares events as of basketball events, with Stern helping to build houses or read with children in libraries.

“Shame on us, he would say, if we don’t do all we can with the platform we have,” said Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programs.

Stern began at the NBA at a time when the league was fighting for attention, plagued by drug problems in the 1970s and struggling to gain the interest of mainstream America when nearly three-quarters of the players were black.

But Stern drove employees at the league and on its teams to work through that, to turn the league into what he thought it could become.

“No one had a better crystal ball than David Stern,” said Val Ackerman, the commissioner of the Big East who previously was an assistant to Stern at the NBA.

Ackerman choked up when discussing Stern’s dedication to women’s sports, how he was at the first WNBA game in New York in 1997 and remained a champion of the league even when there were early detractors.

“For all the advances in women’s team sports since that auspicious night, I hope historians will write that it was women’s basketball and the WNBA that did it first and blazed a trail,” Ackerman said. “I hope they’ll write that David, while always quick to deflect credit, was the most important figure in the women’s sports movement since Billie Jean King.”

Then, with King in attendance, Ackerman wrapped up her remarks by reading from a email Stern had sent her touting the WNBA’s accomplishments.

“As usual, I’m unable to say it better,” she said. “We broads truly owe him.”

So does Johnson, who said Stern would constantly check up on him to make sure he was healthy, and ask Johnson’s wife if he was eating right.

“I’m going to miss my friend. I’m going to miss my angel,” Johnson said, “and now who’s going to be there at the All-Star Game to make sure I’m OK?”

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.

Clint Capela still weeks away from making his debut with Atlanta

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Atlanta traded for Clint Capela at the deadline thinking about the long haul — he is the pick-and-roll big man they want to pair with Trae Young for seasons to come.

Just not much of this season. Capela missed the four games before the All-Star break with a heel bruise and plantar fasciitis, and the All-Star break was not near enough time to get that right. He’s going to be out into March, it appears.

Atlanta would love to start the process of Capela and Young getting used to each other on the court this season, but they are not in a playoff fight, so there is no reason to rush the recovery.

Capela averaged 13.8 points and 13.9 rebounds a game this season in Houston. He sets a good pick, rolls hard to the rim, has good hands if he gets a lob, plus he’s a quality shot-blocker in the paint on the other end. He should pair well with Young.

Eventually, once he gets healthy.