Kings Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

February 1, 2009
Opening tip: What did you get David Stern for an anniversary gift?

Thunder (11-36) at Kings (10-38)

Scoring: Kings 13th (98.9), Thunder 24th (96.3).
Shooting: Kings tied for 24th (44.5 percent), Thunder tied for 19th (44.8).
Scoring defense: Kings 29th (108.2), Thunder 25th (106.2).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (48.1 percent), Thunder 26th (47.1).
Rebound differential: Kings 29th (minus-4.4), Thunder seventh (plus-2.2).

The link: Thunder coverage in the Oklahoman.
The almanac: On this date in 1967, the American Basketball Assn. was born in all its red-white-and-blue-ball glory. Four teams made it to the eventual merger with the NBA in the summer of 1976: the Nuggets, Pacers, Nets and Spurs. On this date in 1984, Bernard King of the Knicks scored 50 points for the second night in a row, becoming the first player to do that since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964. On this date in 1984, David Stern replaced the retiring Larry O'Brien as commissioner. On this date in 1995, John Stockton of the Jazz passed Magic Johnson of the Jazz to become the career assist leader.


But first: The Kings hit bottom. Last in the league. Not just tied for the fewest wins after the Wizards won Saturday night to get to 10-37. The worst by percentage at .208, edging the Wiz and Clippers (.213), Thunder (.234) and Grizzlies (.239). The over-under today for attendance is, oh, 8,000, maybe 7,500.

David Stern wouldn't sit down with the Bee. The NBA PR machine asked the topics of the interview, was given two polar-opposite ideas under consideration, and returned with two thumbs down from the commish. One was very probing that the league couldn't get away from fast enough and the other was more basic and agreeable -- Stern's legacy as his silver anniversary as boss arrives today and how he views a time of far more positives than negatives -- except that word came back he didn't approve of that line of questioning either.

So I can only go by his interview with Jack McCallum on on that line of questioning. Stern originally only expected to stay at the league a few years on the legal side but everything changed when he got The Promotion that took effect 25 years ago, that his biggest regret is not convincing players the lockout threat in 1998 was real, that the biggest success on his watch has been the NBA's role in educating the public about HIV and AIDS in the wake of Magic Johnson's medical disclosure.

Interesting thoughts, especially the last one. But not surprising. Stern has never hesitated to see his basketball universe, and sports in general, as a vehicle for social change, which is why when I asked him last season where he ranks the success of the 2008 All-Star weekend in post-Katrina New Orleans in personal satisfaction, he replied without hesitation: "At the top."

Tough to beat helping rebuild a city of history and culture or raising awareness of a killer disease for success stories. But even in basketball terms, his accomplishments are many and significant.

My top 3:

1. Going global. The NBA turned into a worldwide corporation as Stern pushed basketball around the world and changed the game forever, tapping into billions of dollars in revenue stream that helped grow his league and making it commonplace to draft prospects who had been developed overseas. Baseball hasn't been able to market itself the same way in monied Europe and Asia and the NFL hasn't come close.

2. The salary cap. Stern never claimed credit for the framework that brought financial order. The NFL tried something similar before the NBA finally enacted it in time for the 1984-85 season, but Stern the coalition builder is the one who got it done and made it possible for markets like Sacramento, San Antonio and Indianapolis to keep up with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

3. The marketing. A huge part of the Stern success story is luck. He took over in 1984, as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had a boiling rivalry and Michael Jordan was months from joining the league. But Stern, a lawyer with no background in public relations, marketing or media relations, has always had a great sense of what it took to advance his product. He takes an active role in that side of the business and drives employees hard.

The bottom 3:

1. Tim Donaghy. Tim Donaghy, Tim Donaghy, Tim Donaghy. The referee scandal can't be directly traced to Stern, but the worst of all possible implications for a sport, that its games are tainted, happened on Stern's watch. His response has been at times pompous, turning off fans that needed to be reassured, and at times ideal. But the wounds are deep.

2. The lockout. The 1998-99 season was mashed into a 50-game schedule in a hurried 1999 and the All-Star game was lost. The eventual agreement was a landslide victory for owners and the league, but the truncated season was a huge setback for all.

3. Over expansion. Added teams added money, so the owners love it, but rosters have become watered down to the point of fans being turned off by poor play. Actually, it was probably beyond the turned-off stage years ago. Now it's more like another reason people stay away in a terrible economic climate.

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