There’s no hiding it now.
Just a bounce pass from the doors of the Golden 1 Center, the glorious new arena in California’s capital that will now house the Sacramento Kings, there’s a street sign that tells the real story about why this is all here.
“David J Stern Walk,” it reads.
Through all the ups and downs of the Kings saga – the Anaheim threat in 2011, the Virginia Beach chapter, the near relocation to Seattle in 2013 and the conclusion that came in May 2013 when Vivek Ranadive led a new ownership group that kept the team in town – Stern was their X-factor. He wanted the team to stay, for those final years of his 30-year NBA Commissionership career to include a victory for the little guy at the end.
Five teams had changed cities on his watch, with Seattle among the victims. He was determined to avoid a sixth. And so, with Sacramento mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson following Stern’s playbook, he ushered in this new era.
Stern, who retired in Feb. 2014 and still serves as a league adviser, caught up with USA TODAY Sports after the Golden 1 Center ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday to discuss everything from his reflections on the Sacramento story to what he’s doing now.
Q: When this saga was unfolding, I remember asking you about your role in this process and why it mattered to you personally to be the steward. You weren’t in the mood for reflection then, as you were all trying to get this job done. But today is a day of reflection, so…
A: “I guess what I would say is that we constructed this league over the years as a place that can support a city of virtually any size. It’s not (a matter of) big and small. It’s whether they can make themselves a successful operation. And when you look around, and you see San Antonio and Portland and Oklahoma City and New Orleans and Sacramento, and Utah, I think that what comes with that is sort of an obligation to say, ‘Well OK, if they continue to meet the standards then they should be encouraged to continue with franchises.’ And that’s what went down here.”
Q: I know it was never about you for you. But considering the timing, was there part of you that felt like, ‘Well listen, we’ve built this legacy on these values, so this is important for my legacy’?
A: “No, it was just – it was a project that I had begun interfacing with and shepherding many years before. It was really a marathon, and I just said that I was going to see it through to the end. That’s all. It was that, and – and we get less attention (for this) because we did it more quietly – but it was also to keep New Orleans in New Orleans (in 2010), even if we wound up having to purchase it, and everything that came with that. It’s important to keep a commitment to communities. That’s all.”
Q: Folks wonder what you’re doing these days. What’s the Cliff Notes version of what you’re up to?
A: “I’m a senior adviser, in addition to the NBA, an investment bank, a venture capital firm, and a Big Four accounting firm, a strategy group. I advise three startups, and I’m spending a fair amount of time dealing with the charitable organizations that I feel as though I neglected (as Commissioner). I’m on the board (of the charities), like the Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Thurgood Marshall (College) Fund, and the Columbia University medical center, as well as giving speeches. I came here from Las Vegas (where he spoke at the Global Gaming Expo).”
Q: You any less busy than the Commissioner days?
A: “Well, I’m actually – in some ways I’m busier. But it’s on my schedule, not on the schedule that the phone call or last night’s event dictates. I’m actually busier (now).”
Q: The blood pressure go down a bit?
A: “You know, the blood pressure was always down. That was my secret sauce. People thought I was joking. I think stress is a positive thing, if you just keep it under control.”
Source: USA Today