NBA: SLC gets cold shoulder
NBA commissioner David Stern isn't a big fan of the Bush administration or its environmental policies.
I learned this fascinating bit of information during the Salt Lake City stop on his annual Best Commissioner in Pro Sports Tour.
Stern took time from his busy schedule to spend about 15 minutes with his favorite people - newspaper reporters - to discuss topics ranging from the Sonics' future in Seattle to the possibility of another All-Star Game in Utah.
The Jazz played host to the 1993 All-Star Game, and things went well, if you don't consider the hundreds of people who were caught standing in line for the Jam Session on Saturday during a freakishly intense 15-minute blizzard.
The Greatest Snow on Earth - unless it's the little frozen pellet kind and it's being driven into your forehead by gale-force wind while you are waiting to shoot free throws with a nerf basketball.
That kind of snow, it's not so great.
Perhaps with that All-Star moment in mind, Stern downplayed the possibility of another game coming to Utah, at least until the growing hole in the ozone layer turns Salt Lake into Tucson.
"No. 1, we have to have 6,000 close-in hotel rooms to be able to have a good All-Star Game," Stern said. ". . . No. 2, there is an increasing proclivity among our owners to prefer someplace that's a little warmer."
Asked if those two things ruled out Salt Lake City, Stern said probably so, at least until the Bush administration's policies relating to fossil fuels speed global warming to the point where NBA big shots, the top brass from the league's corporate sponsors and Charles Barkley can play 18 at Willow Creek on an 80-degree afternoon in February.
Turning his attention to the future of pro basketball in Seattle, Stern hinted there really isn't one.
The decision by Oklahoma City voters to approve a temporary one-cent sales tax to fund improvements at the Ford Center probably means the NBA will have another oddly nicknamed team on its hands sometime in the next couple of years.
The Los Angeles Lakers? The Utah Jazz? The Memphis Grizzlies? The Oklahoma City SuperSonics?
What's next? The Kansas City Mountain Peaks? The Las Vegas Ministers? The San Diego Tornadoes?
Stern called the Oklahoma vote a "strong sign of support for the NBA," but he refused to put odds on the Sonics' chance to go to court and successfully break their lease.
"The one benefit from a misspent youth as a lawyer is I would never make any odds on litigation," Stern explained. "I think the odds are increasing that the team will go to Oklahoma City. But even if I were a betting man - and I'm not - I wouldn't bet on the exact timing of it."
I asked Stern about teams signing retired players like Aaron McKie and Keith Van Horn just so their salaries could be used to complete trades.
The league isn't too concerned about players who have only been retired for two years, Stern said. "I'm just worried the Celtics are going to use Bill Russell, and that would upset me."
LUHM is The Tribune's national NBA writer and can be reached at luhm@
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* BOOK 'EM: The Lakers won 13 of their first 15 games after Pau Gasol was acquired from Memphis. Asked to describe the trade, Kobe Bryant put his knowledge of the American justice system to work: "It was grand larceny."
* YOU SAID IT: The Clippers bought out veteran Sam Cassell and the prolific trash-talker signed with Boston. Asked how Cassell would impact the Celtics, Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said, "They will be a lot louder."
* KING ME: After LeBron James scored 50 points at Madison Square Garden, 17-year-old Anthony Erskine ran onto the court, greeted him and was arrested. Was James nervous? "I'm 6-9, 260. I'm all right," he said.
SAN ANTONIO at PHOENIX
Today, 12:30 p.m., TV: Channel 4
* The Spurs suddenly look capable of defending their NBA title, but they start a difficult week against the Suns. Games against Denver, New Orleans and Detroit follow.
CHICAGO at DETROIT
Today, 6 p.m., TV: ESPN
* If the Bulls want to qualify for the playoffs, they must start stringing together some wins. If they get to the playoffs, a first-round matchup against the Pistons is possible and, surprisingly, Chicago has owned Detroit this season.
GOLDEN STATE at PHOENIX
Thursday, 8:30 p.m., TV: TNT
* The two highest-scoring teams in the league battle in a game with easy-to-see Western Conference playoff implications. Led by point guard Baron Davis, the Warriors average 110 points. The Suns average 109 points.
(on the rise)
* Traded by Golden State to Charlotte last summer, Richardson scored a season-high 42 points in the Bobcats' 118-109 victory over the Warriors. "This wasn't about revenge," he said. " . . . This was a big win for our team."
* Wright averaged 7.9 points and five rebounds this season. He also developed into one of the Heat's most reliable perimeter defenders. But he underwent knee surgery this week and is out for the rest of the year.
(on the rise)
* After serving a two-year suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy, Andersen is back in professional basketball. Nicknamed "Birdman," he signed a prorated $3.5 million contract with the high-flying Hornets.
"I should write out a check to each season-ticket holder and send them back the money - at least for tonight." - Miami coach Pat Riley, after a 108-83 loss to Toronto. The Raptors played without injured All-Star Chris Bosh, and the Heat's starting five combined for 28 points - 16 by Dwyane Wade.
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