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NBA Commissioner David Stern not only opened Brooklyn for a franchise, he helped ease the way

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern died Jan. 1, at 77, and was the subject of many fascinating reflections and reminiscences. He was singularly responsible for vaulting the league into a new stratosphere of profits, with his business savvy rarely undermined by unsavory facts or his own not-always-diplomatic personality. (See Henry Abbott's description of him in TrueHoop as Exceptional, ruthless.)

He plays a significant cameo in the story of the New Jersey to Brooklyn Nets. Remember when he joined a 2005 breakfast gathering, trying to help the Nets sell season tickets? "Please," he implored. "Do whatever [the Nets] ask of you because we really need the money."

He was there at the Brooklyn Museum in January 2007 to help announce the Barclays Center naming rights agreement, and to bless the deal, claiming it signaled basketball's global reach and "being a leader in social responsibility."

Was incoming Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov "a man of character?" Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes asked Stern in a March 2010 piece.

"I think he's a man who's passed a very tight security check," Stern replied deliberately, "and nobody has come up with any reason why he shouldn't be an NBA owner." Actually, the NBA's investigator later described a limited probe.

Stern, at least, steered clear from participating in Forest City Ratner's 2010 jaunt to China to recruit immigrant investors in the EB-5 program. While they brought (and presumably paid) ex-NBA stars like Darryl Dawkins for the sales pageant, they were unable to have Stern speak on video. It's unclear why, but presumably Stern or colleagues in the league office knew it wasn't a good look.

The Brooklyn backstory
In a 1/1/20 post, How David Stern guided the Nets on the road to Brooklyn, NetsDaily's Net Income (aka Bob Windrem) explained how Stern opened up a lane for a team in Brooklyn:
Until 1996, the Knicks controlled the territorial rights to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Then, the Nets ownership, known as the Secaucus Seven, saw an opportunity. The Knicks were changing hands and needed the Nets approval, so the team wrung a concession from their rivals: an end to the Knicks’ territorial monopoly in the city.
But as more than one league source noted, Stern was the one behind the idea, wanting to give the New Jersey team more flexibility in the future. It was he who came up with the deal ... looking decades ahead as he did with everything from expansion to TV rights.

Stern in the early 2000s became friends with Sergei Kushchenko, then the President of CSKA Moscow, and organized a game in Moscow in 2006. Though a deeper NBA presence was proposed but didn't go forward, Prokhorov as early as 2007 began to look into buying a team. Two years later, he did.

Writes Windrem:
Even though Prokhorov still had to pass a background check, Stern went out of his way in the initial press release announcing the agreement to welcome the Russian oligarch to the NBA.
“We are especially encouraged by Mr. Prokhorov’s commitment to the Nets and the opportunity it presents to continue the growth of basketball in Russia.” Stern said in an echo of what the 2006 deal had hoped to accomplish.
That's also an echo of Stern's politic statement to 60 Minutes.

More from TrueHoop
Abbott describes a plan for a big presence in China, a deal that fell apart:
China is actually a perfect portrait of Stern's way of doing business. Maybe he screwed up the biggest prize, but he was also decades ahead of every other league. The NBA is a big business in China—so big, in fact, that the league can barely speak on the topic of Hong Kong protests. The league may love democracy and freedom, but the league also made enough deals in Beijing that they aren’t really free to discuss freedom of speech.
In the service of international basketball, as Abbott writes, "There’s a photo of Stern using his charm in holding up a custom “Putin” jersey, alongside Donald Sterling of all people." Yes, that Putin.
Stern downplayed a referee's betting scandal, calling it “rogue, isolated, criminal,” when actually the NBA had seriously screwed up, as Abbott wrote: "Every part of the operation, the coverup, and the NBA’s investigation was sloppy as hell." But Stern got the scandal to go away.

As Matthew Futterman wrote in the New York Times, David Stern Saw Where the Sports World Was Headed Long Before It Got There, Stern, for example, got the Dream Team in in the Olympics, turning the players and the league into giant celebrities.

Stern also made a black-dominated league palatable, helping enrich the athletes and allowing them to develop their personal brands, but also his "NBA airbrushed tattoos off Allen Iverson’s body on the cover of the league’s official magazine" and established a dress code for players, as Abbott noted:
It’s all a very slippery slope, with no heroes. I read a lot into it when players say vague things like “it’s a business,” when discussing the league.
It's a business. It always is.

Comments

  1. Norm, you missed my tweet on the Putin jersey photo. The man on the left is Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB general and president of the VTB League, Russia's national basketball association. Ivanov, who speaks perfect American-accented English, later became Putin's chief of staff and was sanctioned by the for his role in the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.

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