"I think that lots of people are more powerful than me," Stern said. "I don't know whether World Wide Wes is more powerful."
When asked if he had any thoughts on Wes and his role in the N.B.A., Stern said: "I don't. I know him to say hi to because I see him at games."
He said that a New York Times profile on Wesley that ran on Saturday did not help unlock the mystery of the man known as Uncle Wes.
"Your story didn't shed any light on it," Stern said. "It was an interesting profile to see how one can be around and be influential and be open and above board."
When asked if any agent, coach or general manager ever complained about Wesley, Stern was adamant.
"No," he said. "Never. Not one word. Just positive things."
This cracks me up.
I guess the main point is -- look, Commissioner Stern has William Wesley's back. That's him being nice.
But only after he makes clear that he, Stern, is more powerful.
So, not too nice.
Stern's take is also a tad bizarre: you only know him in passing from attending basketball games, but you'll vouch for his character and speak to the measure of his influence?
If you're wondering why Stern might feel compelled to stick up for Wesley (and even take the curious step of labeling sports biggest mystery "open"), when he could have easily ducked the question, here's my first thought:
William Wesley and David Stern are both big-time proponents of the globalization of the NBA. They're natural allies.
Making NBA players into superstars in places like Europe and China is about as important a business objective as the NBA has. There is simply a ton of revenue and growth potential in those areas. In short: the moment that Allen Iverson and LeBron James are as well known in Budapest and Beijing as they are in Boston, there is exponentially more money to be made selling TV rights, jerseys, merchandise, and more around the globe.
One key to making it happen is the participation of the NBA's brightest stars in overseas competition like the World Championships and the Olympics. The world fell in love with NBA basketball with the Dream Team in 1992, and the league and Team USA has been running the same play ever since.
The problem is that some of the biggest stars -- Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, at times Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant -- have been reluctant to commit their off-season time to the project.
So, here's my question: if you're Team USA, or the NBA, and you could really really use someone in the ear of the likes of the most marketable stars like LeBron James, Allen Iverson, and Carmelo Anthony -- who would you call?
If I ran the NBA, or Team USA, I'd call a guy those players are said to trust: William Wesley.
Did that happen? I sure can't prove it.
But it is not hard to see that Wesley has been supportive of Team USA, and it's not hard to imagine David Stern might like Wesley for that.
It has been well documented that Wesley has been all over Team USA for years. And the spokesman for Team USA told me some time ago that Wesley was a contact for Team USA in dealing with LeBron James and Allen Iverson in the lead-up to the 2004 Olympics, where Wesley then stayed on the super-secure (freshly post 9/11) cruise ship with the national team. Wesley was also tooling around with the national team two summers ago in Japan.
We also know that Wesley is a big believer in the power of marketing to China, as John Calipari has said on the record. (In fact, it was another Pete Thamel New York Times article that says: "Calipari first hatched the idea of an agreement with China after a conversation with William Wesley ... 'William Wesley told me that I wouldn't believe how big this thing was,' Calipari said. 'He told me that LeBron was like a rock star over there.'")
The other group that really benefits from people like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Allen Iverson being famous overseas stars are the sneaker companies (respectively: Brand Jordan, Nike, and Reebok). That's where a lot of the money in sports is, and by being on the side of making NBA players international stars, Wesley is also helping Nike, Reebok, and just about everyone else who sponsors top NBA players.
So, if Wesley can be helpful in getting top NBA players to Team USA, there are all kinds of reasons for people in positions of power to like and praise him, you know?