PHOENIX -- David Stern realizes the financial crisis makes growth difficult, so he'll settle for not losing much.
The NBA commissioner said Saturday that his league is holding steady and will continue to do so, even during a worldwide economic downturn that has put many big businesses in jeopardy.
"I always get into trouble saying this," Stern said. "I have been concerned for 25 years, and so I always worry about everything. But all I can say is that in a difficult economic environment we are going to maintain our attendance and our revenues, even last year."
Stern said the league was forecasting more robust growth in September before the markets collapsed. Instead, he predicted the NBA will "be even rather than up because of the overall economic situation."
"The stock market is down 30 or 40 percent," he said. "The fact that we may be flat or down a percent or two, I'd sign up for it now in this environment for a long time because we just don't know what's going to happen."
Overall, Stern was in good spirits during his annual state of the league remarks at All-Star weekend. The press conference was highlighted by an emotional moment when he announced the NBA finals MVP award would be named for Bill Russell -- who never won one because the league didn't start giving them out until the Boston Celtics great had already claimed almost all of his 11 NBA titles.
" Stern said the Sunday night games during the NBA Finals would begin at 8 p.m. EST, an hour earlier than the other start times.
"It is an experiment. We'll see how it goes," Stern said. "We are listening and we are trying to do the best we can for our fans."
" Stern and players' union director Billy Hunter said they have had ongoing discussions about re-opening the collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire after the 2010-11 season -- though the league has an option to extend it an additional year.
"David and I talk from time to time and we just thought it was apropos that we sit down and begin to look at the situation, particularly in view of the current economic climate in hopes of getting another deal in place without some kind of work stoppage, lockout, etc.," Hunter said.
" Stern is comfortable with the league's drug testing procedures and doesn't see a need to increase from the four random tests a year.
"Could we improve it? Sure, you could make it six times," he said. "You could hound your players completely, but you do something that you think is rational compared to where you are, and I think we're almost at the right place. There may be ways we can improve it and we'll talk to Billy and the union about it, but we're pretty comfortable that our system is working."
" Stern said he would have suspended Cleveland coach Mike Brown if he thought the coach had meant his comments about referee Joey Crawford. Brown was fined $25,000 after ripping Crawford's call on LeBron James in the final seconds that led to Indiana forward Danny Granger's winning free throws against the Cavaliers.
Stern said he believed the league was in a "golden age of basketball," but there are potential concerns should the economic situation not improve. It's expected to lead to a decrease in the salary cap, and could eventually land some teams in financial jeopardy.
The Sacramento Kings are the current team in trouble, with co-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof concerned with the difficulty of finding a developer to finance the new arena their team needs to remain in the city.
Stern said a new building proposal was coming at the end of this month and wouldn't make a prediction of the outcome. But he does believe his teams will pull through.
"I can predict nothing other than to say that we worry a lot and we offer to assist our teams," Stern said, "and we are going to work together as hard as we possibly can to weather this economic storm that is really so far beyond sports that I feel almost insignificant talking about it compared to some of the suffering that is going on out there."