Maybe it’s because he can see the end of the line that David Stern seems so happy with all things NBA.
It was a smiling commissioner, downright giddy at times, that addressed the league’s media prior to the NBA all-star Saturday night festivities.
His message in this lockout-shortened season that has taxed the players physically as well as mentally as well as taxing the standards many in the basketball world have set for the league: All is well.
A few things may be influencing his jolly disposition, none moreso than his own insistence that even if the recently agreed upon collective bargaining agreement is re-opened in six years, he won’t be at the helm when that happens.
Stern confirmed that Saturday night and endorsed the promotion of Deputy commissioner Adam Silver to the post he will leave behind acknowledging his recommendation is just that and the final decision will be made by the league’s owners.
Knowing he will soon be passing the torch to Silver or whoever the league owners choose has to be a relief after the often contentious negotiations Stern just completed with the league player’s association all the while dealing with a dwindling base of influence among the owners he previously dominated.
Stern though is only seeing the league through rose-coloured glasses these days. This was his take on the current season.
“We’ve had a good season so far,” Stern said. “We would like it to have been a little longer, but it couldn’t be. We had this thing called a lockout. But the recovery has been spectacular for us, and the results of the collective bargaining agreement with the expected levelling of the playing field, and the ability for well-managed teams to both compete more than our teams have had the opportunity to compete, by some combination of the hugely enhanced revenue sharing and the much larger luxury tax. So we’re thinking that we’re in for a treat over the years as this situation continues to improve.”
Perhaps Stern isn’t watching the product as much as he has in past years. Is he not seeing the watered-down product we are seeing, the impact of too many games in too few nights?
At one point in his question-and-answer session with the media in a question about the league’s new concussion policy he talked about the players being: “The most important asset that we have.”
But when the question of what is perceived as increased injuries throughout the league, the commissioner not only refuted the notion that injuries are on the rise, he chalked up the perception that they were to the individual team’s decision to hold players out and preserve them for later in the season.
“The number of games lost is up slightly because teams are being smarter in their own ways, and competitively, by perhaps keeping a player out of a game that might have been an off day in past years,” he said.
This, however, does not address the rash of injuries like the torn pectoral muscle that sidelined Atlanta’s Al Horford, the type of injury that does not occur in a season when players aren’t rushed through a week-long training camp in order to be ready to begin the season on the coveted Christmas Day schedule that has been so lucrative for the league.
Stern, expectedly, pointed out that the schedule was one both the league and it’s players agreed to.
“With the carrot of December (Christmas Day games), all-star, and 66 games in front of us, we managed to have a season, and a pretty darned good one as I’ve talked about in terms of its competitiveness and its enthusiastic reception by our fans. So we’re delighted with it, actually.”
Perhaps Stern is delighted at the moment looking at an all-star weekend that is rolling in record high ratings for first its first two events of the weekend — the Rising Stats Competition and the Celebrity Game.
The question is will Stern still feel as positive about this season when the effects of the abbreviated season start to pile up. Stern may not see it but the common fan sees the slippage in the game. What will that mean in the long-term for the league.
Of course Stern is no longer concerned with the long-term. He’s on the way out. How soon only he knows, but he sees the end.