Oklahoma City “The Little Engine That Could”
NBA commissioner David Stern was in Dallas and in Oklahoma City on Christmas day to attend the opening matchups of the Mavericks/HEAT and the Thunder/Magic games.
He met with reporters prior to tip-off at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City and answered a variety of questions; specifically, he addressed the new collective bargaining agreement, NBA small markets, the New Orleans Hornets, ticket sales, NBA fans and Oklahoma City.
HOOPSWORLD was there, and we put together a compilation of notable quotes from the commissioner.
Stern explained why it’s good for a small market team like Oklahoma City to be a contender:
“I’ve spent an entire professional career making it possible for small-market teams to compete, going back to – I wasn’t commissioner then – but Bill Walton and the Blazers. Karl Malone and John Stockton. San Antonio. Orlando, which used to be a small market, but now any community that has sun has changed it to a big market.
“Miami was not a major market destination until three players decided to get together there. So we think it’s great when we can demonstrate that teams can compete in this league regardless of the size of the market that they represent. I think San Antonio is the best example of that, but Memphis would say ‘What about us? We did well. We knocked off those Spurs and here we are.’ And I think Oklahoma City with a young team is going to be a serious contender and that’s good.”
On the main ingredient for a small market to succeed:
“I’m going to give an answer that always ticks off half the owners. Management. That’s what makes the difference. Management that markets the team right in the community, management that views the team as a community asset and gets out in the community doing the kinds of things that are socially responsible. Management that works with city leaders. Management that makes fans think they are losing sleep worrying about the competitiveness, and management that puts the best team together. That is true in all of sports. And as they carry me out, in some cases being waved out by owners that don’t like me to say it, that will be the answer across all of sports. It’s about management.”
Given the history between the NBA and Oklahoma City, we asked the commissioner if Oklahoma City held a special place for him:
“In some ways, it does,” he answered HOOPSWORLD. “Because I shared a lot of (Thunder co-owner) Clay Bennett’s angst about the move, about everyone saying that a small city like this could support a team. That the NBA was making yet another mistake. And I’ve probably visited Oklahoma City more than any other city other than New York City, where I live, in the last several years. I was here for the first visit to see how it was going. I was here for Opening Night. I was here for playoffs. I was here for all kinds of things.
“It’s really sort of like the little engine that could. It really has been a magnificent thing to watch, that the small-town label has been discarded. It’s about management. It’s about the city government. It’s about the corporate community and it’s about the fans coming together to say ‘this is the way it’s going to be.’ I have nothing but great admiration.”
On the possibility of an All-Star game being held in Oklahoma City:
“I have to know about the hotel stock. If you tell me you’ve got 6,000 rooms that are more or less close-in and the kind of facilities that we need, we’d absolutely consider it.”
On the Hornets:
“We are talking to several interested buyers and we expect to complete a sale in the first half of 2012. The timing is a little rough, because there are certain commitments that the state is in the process of making to us on a longer-term basis so that we will execute a longer lease. We hope to announce a final buyer in the next 60 days. It will be good for New Orleans. It will be good for the NBA.”
His opinion on how Miami looked against the reigning champions (Miami beat Dallas, 105-94):
“Oh they looked absolutely awesome. They came out to play. It’s not uncommon for the team that gets the rings or raises the banner to be flat. I’ve been at a few of those. Miami was playing as though they had something to prove and I guess they did. It was a great game, but we’re not going to mail the trophy anyplace yet. There’s still a 66-game season to play, and I think it’s going to get very interesting.”
On the new CBA:
“Everyone’s unhappy, that’s why I think it’s a good deal. It’s a really important deal for the NBA. The players will still be the highest paid athletes in all of sports and in all of the world, but we will have gotten the 12% reduction which enable us, in year three, to be able to share $200 million worth of revenue.
“It’s going to focus more on management. (It) will make even the most economically robust market think twice with respect to what they want to do. There are components there to make our teams more competitive to align pay with performance, because there will be shorter contracts and to reduce the percentage that goes to the players, so that we can use that to both be a little profitable and to share a very large amount of revenue. It’s going to take a couple years to see it.”
On the effect of a shortened training camp:
“The one thing I do know is that every time someone drops a pass, Jeff Van Gundy is going to say ‘See, we should have had more training camp.’ And every time someone sprains an ankle, “Ahhh…you see they’re not getting enough camp.” Well, wait a minute, there’s a first day of camp every year and those ankle sprains come.
“Our players stay in shape year-round, they play in exhibitions. Many have played overseas. It’s going to be just fine. I really believe that.”
How concerned were you about the possibility of losing the casual fan due to the lockout:
“We and the players were very concerned. And I think that was the attraction or the attractiveness for us of going by Christmas day. It factored in. We did this once before. We played a 50-game schedule, and it took us awhile to dig out from that. We recognized that some fans said to themselves ‘this is November, what’s this about the NBA?’ There’s no games until January anyway or Christmas day. We know that, but we thought that Christmas day was the place to attract the casual fan.”
On NBA ticket sales thus far:
“Our fans are giving us more than we probably deserve. They are buying tickets in numbers that are proximate (to) last year. It’s going to be hard to match last years’ numbers. The advance sales have been good, the pre-sales, the corporate response have all been outstanding and our network partners are absolutely delighted. We think we’re going to do OK. It’s not going to be our best year, but it’s going to be a very good year considering what we’ve been through.”
We’ll end it with Stern’s answer when asked if he was worried about his legacy:
“To quote Rasheed Wallace: ‘We all played hard.’ That’s what I would like. I played hard. And you can’t do anything perfectly but there we go. I don’t even have a camera, because if you spent your time taking pictures you won’t experience it as well as just being in it and I’m enjoy being in it. And I play hard.