SBD/January 7, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Stern Addresses LeBron, NBA Contraction In Extensive Interview

Stern says "The Decision" interview increased attention for the NBA
FOX SPORTS' Jason Whitlock talked to David Stern for 30 minutes Thursday morning and asked the NBA Commissioner a range of questions about the state of the league, but they mostly focused on Heat F LeBron James and “The Decision.” Stern said, “Leaving aside whether he had it to do over again he might choose a little bit different way, I think that, on balance, it increased attention for the league. ... We’re up a substantial percentage in viewing on both TNT and ESPN and we’re doing very well on NBA TV games, as well. Even if you strip out the Heat and the Lakers, we’re still up well into double digits. I can’t define the exact reasons for that. I think more people absorb a little more TV, and sports are a very potent attractor of viewers.” The following is a portion of the Q&A.

Q: What did you think of LeBron suggesting the league would be improved by contracting a couple of teams and grouping more stars together?

Stern: As soon as I saw that commentary, I said, "This young man is going to wish he hadn’t raised the subject," and I felt badly for him. I actually agree with those who argue as a competitive-talent matter our current number is fine. And I distinguish that from an economic matter, if you get my drift. To me, I’m acutely and positively aware that with 85 or so players that have come from outside the United States -- and more on the way, no doubt -- that we basically have eight more rosters of teams than we had when the league was at 24. (The addition of foreign players) enormously enriched our game. ...

The issue where contraction has been raised in the past and might be raised again is when you watch teams struggle in the economic sense and they are partners of and they’re included in what I would call shared revenues, where in a couple of years we will have developed in the near future, where between licensing revenues, network television revenues and revenue sharing, where certain teams at the bottom end were getting $50 million a year from their partners from the group effort whether or not they sell a piece of merchandise or whether or not they appear on network television, then the issue gets raised among owners would it be economically sound for us to consider contraction. That’s a subject that will be fully aired after the season is over.

Q: LeBron is being booed in arenas across the league. Is it good for the league that its best player is a villain?

Stern: (Long sigh) I don’t like it. I think that it’s theater. I don’t think he’s really viewed as a villain. I think people love to either love or boo the Yankees. You either loved or booed Kobe and the Lakers. People used to love or hate the old Celtics. I think it will morph into the Heat being one of our really elite teams. And people boo the elite teams when they come into town to beat up on the hometown team.

Q: Can you clarify that answer?

Stern: I don’t mind it if he’s booed in the context of the dominant team he’s playing for. I think that I’m not sure people know exactly what they’re booing. Are they booing because he left Cleveland? Certainly they’re doing that in Cleveland. Are they booing him because it took 18 minutes for "The Decision" to say where he was going? Yeah, probably. Are they booing him because he’s part of a team that people think is too strong for their home team to compete with? Probably more so. And that will fade, and then they’ll boo him because he's a member of the high-performing Miami Heat.

Q: Final question, and it’s a curveball. It’s my pet issue -- tattoos. … Have the players gone too far with the tatts?

Stern: I guess what I would say to you, as diplomatically as I can, is when somebody invents a painless way to remove tattoos, there is going to be a lineup of our players saying, "Thank heavens! What was I thinking when I did this to myself?" And then I step back and say be careful because it depends upon your (perspective). It used to be afros and earrings and a whole lot of other things that were just expressions were viewed as something that was not desirable. And we stood back and said, "Come on, let’s relax." So you and your anti-tattoo thing, I say, relax, this too shall pass (, 1/6).

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