DAVID STERN:talks Trump, Chris Paul trade, rips Bryant Gumbel and sings Sinatra


The NBA Commissioner Emeritus

  • recalls defeating Donald Trump in a tennis match, and declining requests for a rematch. (9:40 into the podcast)
  • critiques Hillary Clinton's campaign slogans, and deconstructs her team's marketing shortcomings. (17:05)
  • explains a "revolutionary" technology for basketball that he and Magic Johnson have invested millions in. (22:38)
  • expounds on his prediction of several NBA teams being based in Europe well before Elon Musk's vision of humans on Mars. (28:01)
  • offers free advice to ESPN's John Skipper and the NFL's Roger Goodell about recent issues affecting their organizations. (32:30)
  • recalls Nelson Mandela's secret -- and stunning -- visit to his hotel room in South Africa (35:14)
  • names Senator Mitch McConnell the public figure he dislikes the most. (53:48)
  • recalls a scary accident in February that left him bleeding profusely from the head before an ambulance rushed him to a hospital (58:56).
  • deems Bryant Gumbel "an idiot" for once calling him a "modern plantation overseer."  (1:05:30)
  • concedes that Seattle "deserves" an NBA team. (1:11:17)
  • sings a Frank Sinatra tune before revealing that his biggest regret in life was spending little time with his two sons.. (1:10:32)
  • takes us behind the scenes of the blockbuster trade he controversially overruled, preventing Chris Paul from joining Kobe Bryant's Lakers  -- and perhaps drastically reshaping the NBA. (1:29:13)
  • explains why Jon Stewart is his favorite comedian, with John Oliver coming a close second. (1:35:03)
  • declares that Trump's "agenda is an indecent and un-American agenda." (1:37:46)
  • agrees with Adam Silver's stance encouraging NBA championship members who object to Trump to make  the traditional White House visit. (1:38:35)

By NUNYO DEMASIO

INTRO

The Associated Press once blared in its headline, "David Stern could go into the Basketball Hall of Fame as 'greatest commissioner of all-time.' So when he knocked on my apartment door on March 30, 2017 to launch the NUNYO & COMPANY podcast, I ignored my protocol of asking guests to remove their footwear. I just glanced at David Stern's burgundy  leather shoes  to make sure they  didn't have any dog poop!

My apartment felt like a sauna because I had sealed the windows to minimize any noise for my debut episode. So I lugged a cooling fan from my bedroom. To make David feel as comfortable as possible, I had also exploited  a tip from his decades-long assistant, Linda Tosi, that his favorite snacks comprised cookies, pretzels, chocolate and  diet Coke or bottled water. 

Despite stepping down in 2014, David maintains a hectic schedule. In the 10 minutes  I needed to double-check on equipment, the NBA Commissioner Emeritus intensively tackled work-related matters on his smartphone. He occasionally munched on some Oatmeal cookies and Fig Newtons and sipped bottled water. I could tell that David was used to commanding -- and fining --  billionaire owners: He barked a couple orders, momentarily forgetting  -- or not caring -- that he was the guest  in my apartment. Ha!

Like virtually any great businessman or sports figure, David has generated  his share of critics. But when I started watching the NBA in the early '80s, the league was consider too black; some fans called the Knickerbockers the niggerbockers. The NBA supposedly endured a major drug problem, and the championship game was on tape delay. Fast forward three decades later under David Stern’s leadership, the NBA turned into the second most popular sport in the world — behind only soccer.

Last year, David’s successor, Adam Silver, negotiated a record TV deal that has helped quite a few stiffs land Powerball contracts. But NBA teams owners have made out best: Forbes calculates that teams are worth an average of $1.4 billion.

When David retired in 2014, even some key figures who he had clashed with made effusive remarks about his impact, including Mark Cuban and Pat Riley. The most telling remarks came from Riley who has observed the NBA’s transformation first as a player mainly in the 70s before eventually becoming a Hall of Fame coach and general manager. Riley declared to USA Today, “David Stern is the No. 1 force, the No. 1 reason why this league is where it is today."


Articles based on each episode are available on Apple News.

HIGHLIGHTS

A Google search of  "David Stern" and "egomaniac" delivers more than 3,000 hits. So I asked the NBA Commissioner if he's guilty as charged. David concedes to having "a strong ego," but views it as a leadership asset. (8:17)

David Stern once defeated Donald Trump in doubles tennis at the home of Bob Tisch he Giants co-owner, billionaire boss of Loews Corporation and ex-Postmaster General. The match pitted David and Tisch versus Trump and John Veronis, a media dealmaker. Whenever the future president crossed paths with the NBA commissioner, he  requested a rematch -- to no avail. (9:40)

The anecdote made me bring up one of my favorite scenes in Parcells: A Football Life. Page 39 revealed the half-court basketball games at West Point that included Bill Parcells, Bobby Knight, Arthur Ashe and Norman Schwarzkopf. (11:52)

David played basketball as a kid -- a 5-10 center at age 12 who eventually turned into a slow guard. His go-to move was "get rid of the ball and head to the hoop to get the rebound for someone else." (12:25)

Trump made a couple appearances in Parcells. In 1988, the first Patriots owner, Billy Sullivan, put the team up for sale. Page 212 of Parcells mentions that the top bidders included Trump, Tisch and Robert Kraft, all of whom lost out to Victor Kiam of Remington Products. Before pursuing the Patriots, Kraft -- a paper-and-packaging magnate -- had contemplated buying the Celtics. But David, who was named commissioner in 1983,  has no recollection of Kraft's initial interest  in the NBA. (13:44)

David's office is only one block from Trump Tower, but since the election, the daily frenzied protests in front of the building have subsided. He's gotten used to cops with presumably AK-47s in front of the building. (15:46)

David, known for his marketing acumen, expresses qualms with  Hillary Clinton's campaign slogans, and offers a review. He deems them to be have been ineffective for courting working-class whites.  The Democratic donor describes Trump's signature slogan to be "catchier and easier to articulate." While running against Jimmy Carter in 1980,  Ronald Reagan used the slogan,  "Make America Great Again." (17:05)

David had declined after being recruited to run for mayor against Bill DeBlasio this year. During his commissionership, he never considered political office. (19:01)

David's indefatigable,  long-time assistant, Linda Tosi, often still  works into the early evening, indicating the frenzied pace of his post-commissioner life.  As the CEO of DJS Global Advisors, David advises a handful of companies in venture capitalism, investment banking and media and entertainment. (19:36)

David believes that a wearable tech company he and Magic Johnson have invested in will have a "revolutionary" effect on  basketball: ShotTracker Team places sensors in shoes and a ball in a wired gym, enabling  detailed statistics to be gathered -- and disseminated -- in real time. In March, the technology underwent its most comprehensive test during the  NAIA Tournament. (22:38)

David has also invested in  a live stream platform, which permits  users  to choose any  game commentators; a smartphone app that allows the reading and sharing of short-form video a virtual reality platform and artificial intelligence technology. (24:32) 

No longer officially neutral, David declares himself a Knicks fan, and  bemoans their struggles. (26:10)

David's role as an senior advisor to the NBA includes discussing a range of issues "on an on-going basis" with  Adam Silver -- who had worked for him in five different jobs. (27:06)

David expounds on his prediction that the NBA will create a five-team division in Europe -- before Newt Gingrich's prognostication of moon colonies, or Elon Musk's 2022 goal of humans on Mars. (28:01)

David says that the NBA lacked a contingency plan for Adam Silver. The league, which unanimously approved David's recommendation, never consider an outside candidate. (31:30)

David gives free advice to both the NFL regarding their ratings hiccup last year; and to ESPN, which has been forced to undergo massive job cuts prompted bysubscriber losses. (32:30)

David's office wall is decorated by a hand-written note from President Obama, and an effusive one from Mark Cuban sits on his desk. But he cherishes a photo of him engaging with Nelson Mandela, who impacted the league's efforts at social responsibility. In 1993, David was part of an NBA delegation that visited South Africa -- only three years after Mandela's release from Robbins Island. Mandela made a secret visit to David's hotel room -- so unexpected that the commissioner hurriedly put his pants on before greeting the iconic leader. David, and his wife, Dianne, and Charlie Grantham -- the NBA Players Association honcho -- spent quality time with Mandela at a banquet. (35:14)

(Youtube video, NBA.com)

Mandela told David and company,  "I think sports really has the capacity to solve problems and bring people together." Two years  later, Mandela would use the 1995 Rugby World Cup to help unite South Africa, prompting the film, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Highlighting the banquet, Wizards coach Wes Unseld gave Mandela a jacket emblazoned with the NBA logo, and the Commissioner handed him a basketball signed by the Dream Team. (39:34)

(credit for screenshot: NBACares video, "The NBA honors Nelson Mandela")

(credit for screenshot: NBACares video, "The NBA honors Nelson Mandela")

David believes that the NBA's drug problem when he took over in the early 1980s was "highly exaggerated." (53:35)

David -- and the NBA -- earned a reputation for being the most racially progressive league, highlighted by its proactive steps to place  qualified minorities in management. And in 1989, David pushed for the sale of the Denver Nuggets to the first black majority owners in sports.  Although the deal ultimately unraveled, the NBA officially made history when Robert Johnson purchased the Charlotte Hornets in 2002. Nonetheless, Bryant Gumbel of HBO Sports dropped a media bomb amid the 2011  lockout  by deeming David as a "modern plantation overseer." David now responds forcefully, deeming the broadcaster "an idiot," and declaring that "I have done more for people of color than he has." (1:05:30)

David generated criticism in 2005 for instilling a dress code to a mostly black league. However, over time, the controversial edict has provided lucrative opportunities for players while transforming men's fashion. David notes the irony and reflects on his decision: "I remember getting killed because of it. They were doing cartoons of me, putting me in gold chains. All kinds of stuff. But the reality was it didn't take long. Our players went way past it." (1:08:23)

(credit: unknown, via nbaoffseason.com)

(credit: unknown, via nbaoffseason.com)

Last year, the Sacramento Kings named a street after the ex-commish-- 500 David J. Stern Walk -- for his help saving the franchise from relocating. Conversely, he's disliked by many Sonics fans for allowing their storied franchise to make an ugly departure to Oklahoma City after Seattle failed to deliver a new arena. David expounds on the NBA's stance while downplaying the incriminating emails from co-owner Clay Bennett that the new group always intended to leave. Regardless of such subterfuge, David says he saw too much resistance from Seattle, crystallized when one government official suggested that NBA players take a pay cut and use that extra money to finance a new arena. "I did the same things in Seattle that I did in Sacramento."  Still, David concedes that Seattle "deserves" an NBA team, and recalls the "exciting" 1996 NBA Finals between Gary Payton's Sonics and Michael Jordan's Bulls. (1:11:17)

I stump David when I ask him to name the four members of the late '90s, early '00s Sonics who are currently NBA head coaches: Dwane Casey (Raptors), Nate McMillan (Pacers), Terry Stotts (Blazers) and Earl Watson (Suns).  The number would have would have been five  if George Karl had avoided being fired by the Kings. "That's an amazing stat," David says. Also, those Sonics employed Richard Cho who now works for Jordan's Hornets as the NBA's first Asian general manager. "They produced a lot of talent," David acknowledges of the Sonics. (1:18:10)

David gives me kudos for having introduced Sonics assistant Dwane Casey to his future wife -- and a catch -- Brenda Lundberg, when I lived in Seattle. (1:19:55)

I'm wearing a Sonics sweatshirt that Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz gave me in 2002 before I left the Seattle Times for the Washington Post.

I'm wearing a Sonics sweatshirt that Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz gave me in 2002 before I left the Seattle Times for the Washington Post.

David envisions social media continuing to tremendously impact sports. "There's going to be a whole new way of watching television. it's going to be in bytes and sound bites by a younger generation." (1:20:33)

The NBA was the first organization to land a channel on YouTube when the site was run by co-founder Chad Hurley, who's now part-owner of the Golden State Warriors. (1:21:46)

In 2012, David fined the Spurs $250,000 for resting four veteran starters in a nationally-televised game versus Miami without giving the league a timely heads-up.. Several years later, the issue remains. While recognizing the concerns of coaches, David detects a bit of gamesmanship. He's convinced that Adam Silver and the owners will reach a solution with input from coaches. I remind David that in 1990, he fined Pat Riley $25,000 for resting Magic Johnson and James Worthy in an inconsequently regular-season finale. Outraged, Riley responded by saying that league officials need to start coaching the players themselves. David says, "I thought that the way to do it was: Come on, have the player dressed, have him play some...give the fans some...tip of the hat." (1:22:22)

David believes that Magic Johnson will do well as the new Lakers's president of basketball operations. (1:27:16)

Being fed cookies, Fig Newton's and water doesn't prevent David from complaining about the "110 degrees" in my apartment. (1:28:20).

In  2011, David infamously overruled a three-team trade that would have delivered the Hornets's star point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers-- and perhaps dramatically altered the NBA. Despite the  perception that he has long- favored big-market teams, David got hammered. Several years later, Lakers fans still rue his decision to void the trade "for basketball reasons." In David's initial public comments, he somewhat came across as a lawyer on O.J.'s defense team, navigating semanticsNow, David finally  expounds on his decision while taking us behind the scenes a bitDavid admits that his role as de facto owner of the Hornets was an inherent conflict of interest -- a unique situation that likely won't occur again. (1:28:40).

(GIF credit:  @MarkSandritter, SB Nation)

(GIF credit:  @MarkSandritter, SB Nation)

David agrees with Adam Silver's stance encouraging every member of the NBA championship team to show up at the White House despite the presence of a polarizing president. He tries explaining why Silver's position is not necessarily a contradiction from a league office that embraces social activism. (1:38:35)

David is uncertain how things will play out if the Warriors  capture the NBA championship. Head coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have publicly rebuked Donald Trump. "Stay tuned," David says. (1:39:35).

 

THE MAN BEHIND THE COMMISSIONER EMERITUS

In an alternate -- or parallel -- universe, David would be a: shopkeeper, like his father, who owned Stern's Deli in Lower Manhattan. (42:00)

David's secret passion is a daily habit of reading several newspapers, trades publications and business magazines -- all off line. "I love newspapers -- that tactile touch." (44:01)

The person who influenced David the most was his, well, stern father, who he worked for as a kid. Professionally it was David's mentor, George Gallantz, the NBA's general counsel at Proskauer Rose under the league's three commissioners. Gallantz died in April 24, 2013, one day after turning 100. (45:99)

The best life lesson David can share is "that whatever you're doing and however you do it, you probably have the opportunity to make a contribution to some bigger issue." (49:54)

The biggest turning point in David's life occurred on February 1, 1984 when  the NBA's top lawyer was name its fourth commissioner, after Larry O'Brien decided to retire. At age 41, David was unanimously approved by the league's  26 owners. (50:49).

(credit for screenshot: NBA.com video, "Stern's History as Commissioner")

(credit for screenshot: NBA.com video, "Stern's History as Commissioner")

The public figure that David dislikes the most -- and has never met -- is Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader since January 3, 2015. "I think he's so happy having finally succeeded in being the head of the Senate that he is not going to consider things fairly." (53:48)

The deceased person -- and non-relative --who David misses the most is President John Kennedy if not his brother, Robert Kennedy "who inspired us to be better and to worry about our country. I miss that in politics and government and in life." (56:38).

The closest David came to death was perhaps when he almost got hit by a car as a kid while running  across the street. However, during a trip to Snowmass, CO in February of 2017, David fell down the stairs in a shopping center and lost substantial blood from his head before an ambulance rushed him to the hospital. "We're always dancing with death in a crazy kind of a way." (58:56)                                                                                                              

The possessions that hold the most sentimental value to David are five silver dollars he received from a priest as part of a Jewish ceremony; and an engagement watch from his wife-to-be 54 years ago. (1:00:58)

A reader of pulp fiction, David names his favorite author:  Robert Ludlum, the creator of the Jason Bourne series; and marvels at how thriller writers such as James Patterson regularly concoct gripping plots. (1:02:13)

The thing David is proudest of in his life is his "intact family" --  his two sons, Eric and Andrew, and his wife. Professionally,  David is proudest "that I played a small part in demonstrating that America could be persuaded to focus on merit and performance rather than race in choosing what sport to follow." (1:03:49).

The thing David most regrets in life is not giving  enough attention to his two sons as they grew up. Singing the lines about regret from Frank Sinatra's "My Way," David explains, "I was totally focused on the NBA. I didn't spend enough time at home." He also expresses regret for the multiple lockouts during his tenure. (1:10:32)

David's short-term goal in life is to have a president who cares about environmentalism and health care for the poor -- "everything that's the anti-Trump agenda" since "I think his agenda is an indecent, un-American agenda." (1:37:46)

David long-term goal in life is "to see my family happy, as many people as I know happy, and the sport of the NBA continue to thrive." (1:39:54)

David wants to be remembered for "playing hard," paraphrasing Rasheed Wallace's succinct, memorable line after a 2011 playoff game. (1:40:22)

 

COMEDY

David explains why his favorite comedian is Jon Stewart, wiith John Oliver coming in a close second. (1:35:03).

David grades two of my jokes from a 1 to a 10, with divergent reactions: He loves "the shortest joke ever told," but gives a thumbs down to a salty joke referencing Sarah Palin. (1:35:49)

Still a workaholic three years after stepping down as NBA Commissioner, David puts in time after-hours as I gear up for the interview.

Still a workaholic three years after stepping down as NBA Commissioner, David puts in time after-hours as I gear up for the interview.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Pre-interview: David munches on an oatmeal cookie while checking on his voicemail.

Pre-interview: David munches on an oatmeal cookie while checking on his voicemail.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
Pre-interview: David munches on an oatmeal cookie while checking his voicemail. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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