- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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NBA commissioner David Stern appeared on The Herd with Colin Cowherd on Wednesday morning and discussed the vetoed Chris Paul trade that would have landed the All-Star point guard on the Lakers, as well as several other topics. You can listen to the interview here, or read the transcript below.
Colin Cowherd: How rough has it been personally, the last 2-3 weeks with the Chris Paul stuff?
David Stern: I call it interesting. But, there has been something of a storm. I’m happy to talk about it or answer any questions you have.
CC: How much did that Chris Paul-Lakers situation hurt the brand?
DS: I think that come Christmas Day when the five games tip off, the brand such as it is will be very much alive and well. Not a problem. But I’m sorry, I didn’t listen to your show so I don’t know what the basis of your view is, but I think that what happened there is that people thought that I was somehow stepping in as commissioner and undoing something under the broad powers of the game and that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
What I was doing … Picture this team being owned by the NBA. You could have had a vote by the board of governors, whether the trade should be approved or not. Maybe it would be 15-14 and have each governor vote on perhaps whether they wanted Chris to go into their division or their conference or do something that was extraneous to the one issue which was: What’s best for New Orleans? Actually, that’s an area about the voting, is exactly the reason why it was decided by the various committees on the board that ultimately the league office would make the final decision on what’s good for the New Orleans Hornets, and that’s what we did.
CC: But, but as Phil Jackson predicted, it was a messy situation. Ideally, you don’t want to own a team. Assuming a Dwight Howard trade meets all salary cap parameters, how possible is it that you would step in on a Dwight Howard trade?
DS: You’re not listening to me. We don’t own Orlando. That was the problem with the media coverage. I was not acting in my role as commissioner to approve or disapprove every trade. I was acting on behalf of New Orleans and the people who are day-to-day in New Orleans know that the league office signs off on all trades and we received the parameters of that trade on Thursday afternoon at 5:30.
I know it because I had just finished a board meeting and was heading down to the media and we said, "No, we’re not ready to make that trade." Not to approve it. We weren’t ready to make it. I want you to focus on it, Colin, because the example you just used, of course there’s no conflict. I wouldn’t step in and deal with a Dwight Howard trade between two teams. I didn’t have to step in here. In New Orleans the normal process is for the league office to approve it and when it was presented for approval the league office said, "No."
CC: But a source with direct knowledge of the process, this is not me, told the Houston Chronicle, “It’s an outright lie.” Somebody said that today …
Right. It wasn’t today, they said it a few days back and the difference between sources, who have the ability to maintain their anonymity, and the league office is we speak the truth on the record. I sort of expect some day everybody else will do that too, but even there, what the source said was that the source was told that the league office had signed off. I can assure you, and I reiterate it today, that the first time the league office knew the parameters of the suggested trade was when we said no. So, I don’t know what else to tell you other than the truth, Colin.
(Note: A source told ESPNLA.com that when Stern told reporters on a conference call that Hornets general manager Dell Demps never believed the trade to be finalized, Stern was telling "a flat-out lie.")
CC: But clearly, I think we would both acknowledge, you don’t want to own teams. It’s not comfortable.
DS: By the way, I agree. I don’t think the NHL wanted to own the Coyotes or the Stars. Major League Baseball didn’t want to own the Expos. But what we did in a very extraordinary circumstance for the first time in our history was step in and save the team in New Orleans and generally run it. Decisions were made in a normal course, subject to league approval, and usually got league approval. So, it was relatively unremarkable until this trade and those same sources, I can’t speak to what was said by the New Orleans representatives. But there’s no team in this league that can make the trades of the magnitude of the one that we’re talking about that don’t need owner approval.
CC: People are bothered, and maybe the visceral reaction is based on the polarizing nature of Dan Gilbert, but people in Los Angeles of which I have a large affiliate, are bothered by the appearance that Dan Gilbert and often hypocritical small-market owners, had influence over you. I think that’s the sense.
DS: I rely upon people like you to separate fact from fiction.
CC: So you’re saying Gilbert had no impact.
DS: I’m saying that I first learned about Gilbert’s email to me the following morning and he didn’t send it until late at night and I made the decision at 6 o’clock. It’s a wonderful storm and it’s great to say it, but, it had no influence. What possible … It just couldn’t have and I wouldn’t have and I would not. I think Mark Cuban said it well: If I listened to Gilbert or him it would be the first time. I mean, this is, my job was as set forth by Gilbert and other owners, was to make the decision in the best interest of the Hornets. Period.
CC: Now, a source tells me there are 4-5 candidates to buy New Orleans. Now, demographically …
DS: By the way, a source?
CC: Somebody that I trust.
DS: I announced that at a press conference.
CC: OK, I told you my source was right.
DS: Here I am, it’s wonderful. I hope your listeners are listening to this. “A source.” I said that. There are four or five. We’re talking to a variety of people. We are hopefully making a transaction in the new year, because the transaction can’t be finalized until the legislature meets and they don’t meet until the beginning of March.
CC: Why keep them in New Orleans when Seattle and Orange County demographically, and potentially Kansas City, are better spots?
DS: Why don’t you go tell the people of New Orleans that. That’s a new one. So every time we have a team in a city, we should begin looking for some place else?
CC: Well, it’s not viable. How viable is it?
DS: Well, you know, do you want to be confused with facts? They have 10,000 season tickets which place them above many other teams that you would talk about. Their sponsor commitments are higher. Their cable arrangements are higher than most. And the state, you know, has made a good arrangement with them that would make it important, because it’s important for the state, to demonstrate that Louisiana is a good place to visit as a tourism matter. As a result, under our projections, New Orleans will not need revenue sharing.
CC: So, they will stay in New Orleans?
DS: It’s not fair for people like you to say, "Well, then why don’t we just go someplace else?"
CC: But I think we should have contraction. Hey, listen, I’m all for contraction.
DS: Now, I hate in this holiday season to confuse everything with facts, but that’s another issue that has to be negotiated with the players, to some level. So, now, it’s about contraction. First it was about moving them to another city and now it’s about contraction.
CC: No, that’s just a separate issue that I probably shouldn’t have brought in late to the interview that I wish we got rid of like 40 teams in pro sports. That’s a different issue that I should never have brought in.
DS: I accept your apology, now let’s move on and talk about the great competition that’s coming up on Christmas Day.
CC: It’s unbelievable and I’m a huge fan. Now, listen, we’re going late here but I got to say this. You see all the metrics, I don’t. How close, when LeBron [James] is humming and in the Eastern Conference finals and in the Finals, how close on your global-metric scale is LeBron to MJ [Michael Jordan] as far as business?
DS: Oh, I don’t have that metric. I think LeBron is the leading light of a cast of wonderful All-Stars and great players that have demonstrated their skills in Beijing at the Olympics, are getting ready to represent the country in 2012 in London at the Olympics and really are capturing the imagination of the world. The ratings of last year were great, but it wasn’t just about LeBron, although he was probably the leading light and the player who was the most interesting for a number of our fans.
CC: It’s fascinating. Him and [Tim] Tebow, for different reasons, are the most fascinating American athletes in the last 3-4 years. I mean, no question. By the way, you’re going to have a Tebow on your hands. His name is Jimmer [Fredette] and watch that thing explode.
By the way, I’m not trying to be Scrooge here. We have questions, I got to ask them. I got to poke you and I want to hear your response.
DS: By the way, I keep coming back for the punishment.
CC: Punishment? You should be …
DS: It’s OK. I love to visit.
CC: People love to come on this show. It’s beloved by the masses.
DS: I’m just trying to add some facts to it.
CC: Well … There’s always …
DS: I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s my pleasure to do it.
CC: … Some David Stern shading on stuff. I’d like to see the numbers but I’m out of time.
DS: Oh gosh, we’ll have to do it again soon. I look forward to it. Happy holidays and happy New Year.
CC: All right, thanks, commish.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.