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NBA's Stern says Utah Jazz are solid example of small-market success

Published April 5, 2012 1:37 pm

In Salt Lake City, commissioner also talks about league-owned Hornets, the Kings and his successor.
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NBA commissioner David Stern could've been politically correct. Lumped the Jazz in with Charlotte and Sacramento. Asserted all small-market teams were created equal and made the same.

But at the end of a media interview Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena, Stern cracked a smile and proudly said he was going to be "impolitic." To the commissioner, three teams in a flashy 30-club league form a triumvirate. Each has devoted fanbases. Each is the only game in town. And Utah, Oklahoma City and San Antonio represent the best about small-market success in a worldwide enterprise.

"They really set the bar very high for rallying the community around them; giving a great, great value proposition for an arena and game entertainment," said Stern, who's in town to speak at the Governor's State of Sport Awards luncheon Thursday at ESA.

The commissioner wasn't done praising Salt Lake City's passion for basketball.

"And [the teams] have fans who unfairly pick on my officials," he said grinning.

Stern had equally high remarks about everything from Larry and Greg Miller to a new collective bargaining agreement, which he said better aligns "pay with performance" and has already begun to level the playing field. But the commissioner also had to deal with daily news.

During a meeting next week, Stern plans to update owners about the status of franchises in New Orleans and Sacramento, as well as expectations that deputy commissioner Adam Silver will succeed him.

Stern is more hopeful than confident the Kings will remain in Sacramento, acknowledging his certainty had slightly dimmed since a tentative agreement was reached during All-Star weekend in late February.

"The owners also have an enormous respect for what Sacramento has done over the years in supporting an NBA franchise," Stern said. "And it's always been our first preference — particularly when government agencies or states are helpful — to keep a team where a team is if they're playing in a good facility."

The struggling Hornets have a modern arena, and the NBA — which owns the team — is involved in intense negotiations with three groups about a potential sale. Stern hopes to announce next week a deal to keep the club in New Orleans is either done or on the verge of being completed.

"[An agreement] that will have a very favorable lease, important capital improvements, intense tax benefits and a new TV deal, to boot, that allows the team to be neither a revenue-sharing recipient nor a revenue-sharing payer," Stern said.

As for Silver's succession, the commissioner was still guarded about his plans to step down. But after officially vouching for the deputy commissioner during All-Star weekend, Stern said Wednesday he's running the league on a year-by-year basis.

"I'm going to tell [the owners] that I'll give 'em a yearly report," Stern said. "I'll give them this year's report, then I'll tell that I'll give them a report next year as well."