During a recent matchup of the NBA’s two worst teams in Minneapolis, commissioner David Stern was kind enough to grant Unsportsmanlike Comment’s Rookie Wilson an exclusive interview. OK, so it wasn’t exclusive in the strictest sense, but since only 11 other fans were on hand for the riveting battle between the Seattle SuperSonics and Minnesota Timberwolves, Stern had enough time to answer a few questions for our loyal basketball junkies.
The Rook: Mr. Commissioner, this year’s attendance numbers have seemed to not only flatten, but in several cases they appear to be spiraling downward. Teams in Memphis, Charlotte, Indiana, New Jersey, New Orleans and Philadelphia can’t fill their arenas to 70 percent capacity. Are you at all concerned with the league’s suddenly sagging attendance numbers?
Commish: Not really. I don’t think those numbers really reflect the entirety of our fandom. Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Boston. People are filling up those arenas. Besides, basketball has become a global game. There are billions of people in China just waiting for us to bring them the NBA. We are also extremely popular in Bora Bora. I have it on real good authority that along with the traditional Tahitian fire dance, basketball ranks on top of the list of recreational activities Bora Borans enjoy.
The Rook: Fair enough. You’ve recently taken some heat for a comment you made regarding the NBA’s new marketing slogan “Where Amazing Happens.” What was that all about?
Commish: I don’t think it was that big of a deal. I was trying to explain that we are a league that expects the unexpected, that’s all.
The Rook: I think you said, “Amazing is where 81 points happens, where Ben Wallace’s hair happens, where Yao Ming happens, where caring happens. Where Donaghy happens, where clubbing happens, where registered weapons happen. We invite our fans to mesh up whatever happens. It’s all there.”
I suppose game-fixing, drunken-brawling and 9mm handguns are part of the amazingly unexpected. I’ll give you Kobe’s 81 points as well, but I think what everybody really wants to know is, how does Ben Wallace’s hair and Yao Ming being Yao Ming fit into the category amazing?
Commish: Well you know, Yao’s really, really tall. And Ben’s hair is different every night. It could be all picked out one night, and then out of nowhere, it’s braided the next. I don’t know how he does it. It’s amazing.
The Rook: If you say so. How about the problems with this Sonics team and the city of Seattle? What can be done to keep them in the Northwest?
The Commish: Well that’s not really the plan right now Mr. Wilson. Clay and I have an understanding you see. If I bring him a team down there in Oklahoma City, he promises to get me in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, just like him.
The Rook: But Mr. Stern, you were born in New Jersey. Why do want to be in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame?
Commish: A hall is a hall my boy. After the amazing debacle Donaghy tossed in my lap, I pretty much decided Springfield is out of the question. If I want to be enshrined in a hall of fame, and in turn leave any legacy at all, Oklahoma is where I’m going to have to hitch my wagon.
The Rook: OK. You and your pal Clay keep talking about a “world class” facility. What exactly are you looking for in a modern NBA building?
Commish: I’m glad you asked that question. One of my biggest disappointments with the current state of affairs around the NBA is our plethora of outdated facilities. What the fans don’t seem to understand is, the less of them that come to our games, the more money we need to make off of the few who do. It’s basic business math. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to emphasize with the owners. If every franchise had a super duper state-of-the-art mega mall for an arena, we could get people to come to the games for the amenities alone. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about what type of basketball was being played on the court.
The Rook: What do you mean by amenities? Luxury boxes? Trendy restaurants? Fashionable bars? Tricked-out team stores?
Commish: Yes, yes and yes, but so much more. We’ve kicked around some really great ideas. Restaurants are good. Sports bars are even better. I’m just running ideas up the flagpole here, but I’m thinking we could get Direct TV and the NFL Sunday ticket. I hear that packs ’em in. From what I understand, people love football. That Roger Goodell … wouldn’t you like to have his job?
The Rook: Interesting. What other ideas are you thinking of?
Commish: You know, basic stuff. My grandkids love those McDonald’s playgrounds. Maybe we could add a few of those in our concourses. I heard those Pirate movies had people lining up all over to see them. From what I understand, movies are pretty big draws all the way around. Can you imagine if we put a theater or two in every arena?
The Rook: No. Not really.
Commish: It’s just brainstorming. You know. All of us at the league office have been putting our heads together. We’re great at talking through solutions. Ideas come to me, I bounce them off my underlings, and they love ’em. It’s a total team effort.
The Rook: I see. It’s nice you have that kind of give-and-take relationship with your staff.
Commish: Yeah. They’re good to me. It’s important to surround yourself with a staff that can anticipate all your needs. Head nods, ham sandwiches, hand jobs – whatever. It’s good to be czar. You know, it really is.