As the countdown continues toward the end of David Stern’s 30-year reign as NBA commissioner, I must make a confession.
Once, I completely wasted an hour of Stern’s time and now — before he starts worrying more about his IRA than the next CBA — I need to apologize.
This is a story nobody has ever heard, until today.
At the time, it was a colossally embarrassing incident for a young reporter in his first year covering the Utah Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune.
Here’s what happened:
About a month before the Jazz were scheduled to play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, publicist Bill Kreifelt asked if I’d be interesting in sitting down with Stern for a one-on-one interview when the team got to New York City.
(Yes, the NBA has changed in many ways).
Stern liked talking to out-of-town writers when they had an off-day in New York, Kreifelt explained, and something might be worked out if the commissioner was asked to make room in his schedule.
I jumped at the opportunity, of course, and Stern could not have been more cordial during the hour-long interview.
We talked about Frank Layden, the still-uncertain future of the Jazz in Utah and the impact two good young players — John Stockton and Karl Malone — might have on the franchise.
I scribbled Stern’s answers to my questions into a notebook — tape recorders were not yet standard operating equipment for newspaper reporters — and left satisfied I had a good story.
That night, the Jazz opened a dizzying seven-game road trip at Madison Square Garden. It ended 10 days later in Sacramento and, somewhere along the way, I lost my Stern stuff.
The notebook disappeared.
Maybe I left it in a hotel room in Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta. Maybe I left it in a media room in Indiana or Denver. I could have left it on any one of a dozen airplanes. But it was gone.
So was my story.
A few weeks later, I recall Kreifelt asking me when the Stern story was going to run in the newspaper. Embarrassed by the truth, I told him my editors didn’t like the way it turned out and passed.
On Stern’s list of major disappointments as commissioner, I’m certain not being featured in a long-ago Salt Lake Tribune story ranks quite far down the list.
Under Stern, remember, the NBA has experienced two lockouts since 1999, a scandal involving infamous official Tim Donaghy and six franchise relocations — an average of one every five years he has been in charge.
Still, Stern’s accomplishments will be remembered far more than any setbacks.
When he took over in 1984, the NBA’s problems included the lack of profitability for team owners, limited media interest and widespread drug-use among the players.
With the help of players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, however, Stern turned a floundering enterprise with an uncertain future into a global business and marketing phenomenon.
His place in NBA history is well-deserved.
Dirty dancing costs Nelson $15K
Orlando’s Jameer Nelson was fined $15,000 this week for doing the “Sam Cassell Dance” during a 128-125 triple-overtime loss to Chicago. With 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Nelson tied the game with a jump shot. He celebrated his clutch basket by dropping both hands below his waist and … well … you’ve all seen examples of what he did. For some reason, players have embraced the bizarre celebration, which was first popularized by Cassell. Among those who have also been fined for “dancing” are Caron Butler, Andray Blatche and Marco Belinelli. One question: When did “Sam Cassell Dance” become an accepted substitute for “obscene gesture” among NBA players?
Jefferson, Bobcats on the rise
Charlotte is one of the league’s surprise teams this season. The Bobcats remain in contention for an Eastern Conference playoff berth — it would be the second in franchise history — and Steve Clifford is getting some support for Coach of the Year. Al Jefferson is a major reason for this team’s improvement. He averages 17.6 points and 9.9 rebounds. But Jefferson downplays the suggestion he’s been the difference-maker in Charlotte. “Don’t give me all the credit,” he says. “The coaching staff is doing a wonderful job, trying to give us a new identity. And the young guys we have — with my experience and low-post presence — it’s all working well together.”
Healthy Oden a weapon for Heat
Miami’s Greg Oden, the injury-plagued center who was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, played for the first time in more than five years Wednesday night at Washington. He finished with six points and two rebounds in eight minutes but, more significantly, reported no pain in his knees the day after the Wizards’ 114-97 win. “It felt good, just being back on the court,” Oden told reporters. If he stays healthy, of course, Oden could end up playing a significant role for the Heat as a badly-needed rim-protector and to match up individually against Indiana’s Roy Hibbert in what looks like a certain Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference final.