KM_0218_InTheGameStern_301P
David Stern led the league for 30 years.

Former NBA commissioner weighs in on Michael Jordan, super teams, tanking.

March 2018 – LeBron James, Michael Jordan, super teams and the Knicks were among the topics tackled by former NBA Commissioner David Stern at Drew University.

Stern, a guest of Drew Forum’s In the Game speaker series, led the NBA for 30 years—longer than any other commissioner. During his era—1984 to 2014—the league experienced explosive growth and basked in the spotlight of star players like Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.

At Drew, Stern was interviewed by Pulitzer Prize winner Ira Berkow and took questions from the floor. His appearance was sponsored by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation. Here are the six best questions.

LeBron or Michael?

When asked who’s the better player all-time, Stern said that he could instead make a case for the Celtics’ Bill Russell or Magic, a Lakers icon. But then he noted, “Michael was the fiercest competitor I ever saw and if he willed something, it happened. And that was incredible to watch.”

KM_0218_InTheGameStern_161P
Encourages players to speak up.

Shut up and dribble?

Fox News host Laura Ingraham suggested as much to James recently after he weighed in on politics and President Trump. To Stern, though, it’s more power to him. “LeBron is a very forceful spokesperson,” he added. “And I’m delighted to hear our players engage. We’ve always encouraged that.”

How competent is Knicks owner Jim Dolan?

A frustrated Knicks fan questioned Dolan’s competency, but Stern gave him the benefit of a doubt. “Jim Dolan is like everyone’s biggest whipping boy,” Stern said. “What Jim has done—aside from a period of time where he dabbled with Carmelo [Anthony] and Andrea Bargnani, et cetera—was turn his team over to Isaiah Thomas [a Hall of Fame player], to Phil Jackson [a Hall of Fame coach]. He did what owners should do.” But, Stern admitted, “the results weren’t very good.”

What about tanking?

Some teams in the midst of losing seasons don’t strive to win, knowing that those with the worst records typically get the highest picks in the college draft. Stern finds the tactic “disgusting,” though, because “it’s not fair to the fans. It’s not fair to the players.”

KM_0218_InTheGameStern_211P
Says super teams are nothing new.

Are super teams bad for the league?

Currently, the NBA is dominated by a handful of teams like the Golden State Warriors that are stacked with all-stars. But, as Stern pointed out, the phenomenon isn’t new. “The super team that I knew was the Boston Celtics,” Stern said. “They had Hall of Famers. And who was the other team? [The Lakers with] Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper, Norm Nixon. I grew up with super teams as commissioner. It happens. It ebbs and it flows.”

Why was Jordan such a big star?

For one thing, Nike made him larger than life in its advertising. “Along comes Michael and Nike and Mars Blackmon, Spike Like. And it was this really exciting campaign that made it fun,” Stern recalled. What’s more, Jordan was a wonder to behold, particularly his ability to seemingly float toward the basket. And that combination of gifted play and massive media exposure turned him a global phenomenon. Stern knew this first-hand after meeting refugees in Zambia in 1993. Many of those he met wore Michael Jordan jerseys.