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April 25, 2012

Ron Johnson

Adam Silver

David Stern

TIM FRANK:¬†¬† Thanks for joining us for our annual pre‑playoffs conference call.¬† The Commissioner will open with some opening comments, and then be glad to take any questions that you have.
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Thank you, Tim and thanks everybody for being on.¬† This is our usual pre‑playoff media availability.
I would just say what I've said in earlier avails in the last few weeks; that the season has gone better than we could have hoped for.  Our fan response across everything we do has been terrific from television to attendance to social media.  Our sponsors are very happy with the way the league has charged back and we are looking forward to a very exciting playoffs.
We take particular note of the fact that a number of what you would call small‑market teams from Indiana to San Antonio to Utah, Memphis, Oklahoma City, some would add Orlando in there, are well represented in the playoffs.¬† And to some degree, we think even the levelling of the playing field that was our hope in the Collective Bargaining Agreement has something to do with that, and it will become even more apparent as we go into seasons two and three under the deal.
We are very happy that we have a contract of sale for New Orleans and we hope to close the deal literally as soon as possible, but it can't be until the legislature passes the legislation involving the lease and the building.  But we are optimistic that that will happen by the end of May.
I know there are ongoing discussions in Sacramento and we hope that those discussions between ownership and the city end in something satisfy that we can both agree on and see how that goes.
And finally, we issued a suspension with respect to last Sunday's events in the televised game between L.A. and Oklahoma City, and I can tell you that it's some combination of art and science.¬† We look at previous penalties.¬† We look at who is involved in the altercation.¬† We do take into account the seriousness of the injury, and a variety of‑‑ whatever else is in the atmosphere, and then it just becomes my job to decide what it should be.
If I were looking inside from without, I would agree with everyone who has an opinion.  But at the end of the day, it's my job to make the decision, and then move on and hopefully we can.
With that, we'd be happy to take any questions.

Q.¬† Will there be any consideration given to teams having to finish off on the road back‑to‑back to try to spare those teams from playing on Saturday?¬† Denver and the Spurs come to mind, they both have back‑to‑backs to end the season.
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  You know, there were so many other factors, building availability, and hockey availability and the like, that we do take it into account if we possibly can when we make the decision.

Q.¬† Considering the teams, you mentioned the small markets, but a lot of those were already there before the lockout.¬† What gives you the sense that for teams that are ‑‑ other teams that are trying to build better in year two or three of this deal, what really has changed that will make that possible?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† What makes that possible is as the awareness of and as the size of the enhanced luxury tax booms, nobody is going to be particularly looking at having a payroll where if you're $30million over the luxury tax, you will wind up paying $70million additional in taxes.¬† And, as a result, we are beginning to sort of see in certain transactions where long‑term contracts for players that would routinely have been granted, because the money was not an issue in paying or the tax was only a dollar, those were not being made available.
And in addition, the small‑market teams are looking at revenue sharing where the amounts are going to be increased; so they think that they can spend more on players.
So as a result, that is affecting the way our teams are looking at competition right now.

Q.  How concerned were you that Metta World Peace right return before James Harden, and did that enter into your thinking in the length of the suspension?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  I can't really say that I focused on exactly that.  We have reason to believe that James will be available for the playoffs and we hope he will be.
And we are very thankful that his injury was not more serious than it was.  That's the extent of the consideration.

Q.¬† Do you think in China without Yao Ming, there won't be as much interest for the Chinese fans, and are you looking for a potential all‑star Chinese now?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† First of all, we always are looking for a potential all‑star player wherever he may be from.¬† But this year, our ratings are up in China, actually, and not just because of Jeremy Lin, although that did have some impact on our ratings.
But the interest in our game in China continues to be very high, and we are streaming games on Sina.com, and our social media numbers are higher than we could possibly have expected and our relationship with Ted (ph), again, with specialized VIP opportunities, we are very happy with the developments in China.¬† But, we would like to have another Chinese All‑Star player, as well, and as Chinese basketball continues to improve, I have no doubt, no doubt that we will.

Q.  The last time the league went through a lockout there was some displeasure heading into the championship.  Do you think this year's playoffs will be received similarly or differently?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† I think they will be received as completely legitimate, and when the playoffs begin and these teams have at it, people will look back and say, well, they got here, and we are glad they got here with a 66‑game schedule rather than a 50‑game schedule.
So it was very important to us, and that's why we were able to, with the union, use the Christmas Day start and the 66‑game season as a real collective goal to get in the season, and a good playoff series and Finals that they are now looking forward to.

Q.  During the State of the League presser that you had in Orlando, you mentioned that as of that point, injuries up to that point were at a lower rate for serious injuries than the same period last year.  Have you tracked that through the entire season so far, and how is the injury tracking this year versus last and will you share that information with the media?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† Sure.¬† Our‑‑ I don't know that I can share it all right this minute, but I would say that our injuries, the duration of our injuries, is slightly down compared with last season.¬† Although, games missed are up because coaches have been more cautious with returning their players to action.
But we will certainly release the statistics.¬† But the results is that by playing two more games per team a month, we managed to have a 66‑game season, and with a playoff schedule that I can't set yet because we don't know what it's going to be.¬† And it will likely continue to the last day of the regular season.

Q.¬† First, do you know when the league will plan to announce the match‑ups for the preseason games abroad, particularly Shanghai and Beijing?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  I don't know.  I've been put under wraps.  I know we are having discussions with multiple teams.  But we are not able to finalize that announcement yet because we are still negotiating in China.

Q.¬† And secondly, admittedly there's nothing that can be done about it, do you cringe at all when you see teams resting a number of players for an extended number of games late in the season?¬† Obviously the championship is the priority and getting guys into the playoffs but do you cringe when some of the people‑‑
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  I cringe, but then I uncringe and I say that we have always had the issue, and in some ways, we knew as a league that it might be intensified by the compactness of the season.  That's something we have tried to do in recent decades is not to try to coach for the coach, and we have respected that.

Q.  If you could, just expand on your statement yesterday on how you arrived at the number of games for the suspension yesterday, why seven?  As best you can tell us how you came to that conclusion?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  Actually, I wish I could, but I can't, because you're asking me, well, why not six?  Well, that's interesting.  Why not eight?  Could have been.

Q.  I'm just asking why seven.
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  In light of all of the considerations, and in light of past suspensions, and fitting it in someplace, seven seemed to be about the right number.
And with full knowledge that if seven is okay, then six or eight probably could have been justified the same way.  And it's my job to say seven.
I think the seven was larger than some people might have thought from just an elbow.  I think that in many cases, people who thought that this was so horrible that it should result in a lifetime ban.
But at the end of the day, I have to close the door and say, okay, what is justice here and what's fairness here and I came up with seven.

Q.¬† Curious as you weigh the seven, was there any emphasis put on that six was going to be in the playoffs and was that given any consideration as having extra weight because it was the playoffs, or would it have been seven games because this was January, February, the same as if it was the regular season‑‑
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  It's a fair question, and I think that we knew that seven at this time of year was even more severe than it would have been during the regular season, and only one game was going to be lost in the regular season.
And basically, he would be out for most, if not all, of the first round.  And yes, Scott, that did factor into it.  I can't tell you that it was the precise equation, but it was certainly something that I was well aware of.

Q.¬† I think the situation was well balanced, that every team that played well had a chance to make the playoffs and we are definitely looking forward for Saturday.¬† But Mr.Stern, I have a question for you, NBA fans from Puerto Rico have wanted a team in the island for years.¬† We certainly have the facilities, the Puerto Rico Coliseum, the NBA standards, and we have the power to make huge advertising promotions and sell a lot of tickets.¬† Do you have any plans of a team here or maybe some NBA regular‑season games in the next year like Major League Baseball has done in the past?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  Well, Major League Baseball did it because they had a team that they happened to own that was playing games in Puerto Rico.
I'm pleased to report that we are very close to not owning any teams, and all of the cities that currently have our teams would like them to play where they have leases and buildings.  That said, I think that we have played in Puerto Rico.  We have had tournaments; USA Basketball has played in Puerto Rico. 
And the one thing you didn't list in all of the things that you have is a potential owner.  And that's something that we would like to know; if there's someone who would like to talk to us about that, we certainly would be willing to have conversations.
We have conversations with potential owners from literally all over the world, except none of them is currently residing in Puerto Rico.¬† But we would like to‑‑ we are aware of the great facility, and we would like to schedule some games perhaps exhibitions, perhaps training camps, perhaps WNBA, perhaps even NBA Development League in Puerto Rico.

Q.  Hate to do it but I want to go back to the suspension one more time.  I want to clarify, when you talk about looking at the previous things and who is involved, how much did that affect the number?  If this was not Ron Artest and this was any other player, are we talking four games versus seven?  How many did this weigh in the past?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† Just a minute.¬† Let me check my slide rule, Brian.¬† I'm going to do the calibration‑‑ oh, okay.¬† Yes, if it were somebody else, it would have been probably‑‑ it says 6.2 so I'll round it down to six.
Obviously all of those things are considered.  And, in fact, if it had been somebody who got tangled up and threw an errant elbow, would have been different from this?  You bet it would have been.
So you know, despite my joke about it, it's really very serious stuff, and it does take into account the fact that the perpetrator is who he is, and has the record that he has.¬† And this called for in our view a very stiff penalty and we think that seven games, which only includes one regular‑season game, is such a stiff penalty.

Q.  You mentioned the Collective Bargaining Agreement and your negotiating adversaries are involved in a bit of turmoil at the moment to put it mildly.  Is what's going on with the Players Association concern you in any way and would you be compelled to step in and ask them to cut it out until the playoffs are over?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  I can't think of a circumstance in which we would involve ourselves in that.  That's internal union business; any more than they involve themselves with our internal discussions and governance with our teams.

Q.  Does it concern you?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† It's interesting.¬† But I'm sure it doesn't concern me, because I'm sure they are going to work it out.¬† And then they will be a union that will likely look exactly like or very much like the one that we currently are dealing with, and have a very long‑term relationship with.

Q.  Back to the dead horse again.  You said in response to the World Peace incident, you said, in fact, if somebody had been tangled up and through an errant elbow, it might have been a different penalty; do you believe that it was intentionally thrown?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  I believe that it was recklessly thrown.  And I believe that in looking at the replays again and again, that he should have known that James was up against him; and someone argued that he had known, but I can't be in his mind at that moment or what was overriding what.  The fact was, under all of the circumstances, it was reckless and dangerous.

Q.  The incident may lead to questions about the league's mental health policies; would you consider any increases in that policy to have players examined in situations where it seemed like Metta World Peace might have lost it for a minute or might have just lost control?  Is that something that concerns you?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  I actually don't even want to go into that, because that would be a private discussion among us, the union and the potential players, or some would say patients involved.
Suffice it to say, it's a subject we are continually evaluating, but we are actually‑‑ I think that in some ways, the incident brings into bold belief the progress that we have made over the years.¬† As you may recall, Gary, we used to have players throwing punches, players coming off the bench, all kinds of things that it is now clear will subject players to suspension.
I don't want to sort of go too far into the mind of the players here, but suffice it to say I considered it to be reckless and dangerous and had to be dealt with the way that we dealt with it.

Q.  If you could think back to the 1999 lockout, and you could argue really that it took you guys at least five years, maybe eight or nine, to really recover from that.  And yet when you look at what's going on now, it's almost as if the lockout had not happened.  I wonder what do you attribute that to?  Why do you think that fans have come back last time rather than last time?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  In fairness, I don't know if I agree with the underlying facts of the assumption of your question.  I don't have all of the numbers in front of me, Sean.
I guess I would say, there was a guy, is his name Michael Jordan?¬† His career was winding down so to speak.¬† There was a changing of the guard.¬† And here we are in, you know, 2012, we have an entirely new set of interesting players and characters, an entire construct of Hall of Fame veterans like a Kobe, Kevin Garnett, a Tim Duncan, a Paul Pierce, together with exciting rookies and up‑and‑comers that are, you know, are going to represent‑‑ have represented us at the FIBA World Cup and are going to represent the U.S. at the Olympics.
And we came off a season where there was enormous momentum and great enthusiasm, and somehow starting on Christmas Day, may have been the single most differentiating factor.¬† The fact that we were there; that we had a five‑game slate, and for those fans that don't tune in until Christmas, maybe they thought the season was just beginning; that just got us off on the right foot and it built on itself off of last year's exciting playoffs.
That's all I can think of except to say that we have had some help in the interim.  There was no social media to speak of in 1999.  I'm not sure, was there Internet?  I suppose so.
And in some ways, and I don't want to say anything nice here of Berger, but in some ways, the bloggers, the social media, everything that was going on, our fans were out there, whether they were saying we were stupid, bad, good, ignorant, blind, whatever they chose to say, they were talking.
So in some ways, our community, through social media, was staying engaged, and that's a big differentiator in the way the world currently exists.

Q.¬† To Ron and Stu, it was a difficult season for your referees, as well, because you lost some of your best guys in the off‑season.¬† Do you have an idea yet how many new referees will be in your playoff pool for the first round?¬† And maybe a quick assessment of how you think your referee pool did this year.
RON JOHNSON:  We have 36 referees that will be going in round one of the playoffs.  There are three guys going to be in the playoffs last year that were not last year, but they have been to the playoffs before, but it's been a while.
The injuries we had this season, of course you know that one of our referees has been out since last year.¬† We have had no sustained rehabilitating staff injuries that didn't allow us to man all of our games this season.¬† Our referees are used to the high‑up tempo of officiating our games and our game is faster and tougher and physical, so our referees are always prepared for that.

Q.¬† How is this postseason going to be different than non‑lockout years?¬† What kind of problems or things are out there are different this year, as opposed to what you've had to deal with in the past?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:¬† Thanks for that softball, Mike.¬† None.¬† None.¬† We don't expect‑‑ we don't expect there to be any difference in the playoffs.
There's a slight scheduling quirk.¬† We might have possible second round games back‑to‑back.¬† But we have had that on previous playoffs.¬† But that's it.¬† I can't think of anything else that's going to be any different.
I think our fans are hungry for the playoffs.¬† Our network partners are excited by the prospect, and you know, I think‑‑ I can tell you, I'm looking forward to it in the same way.¬† So I think it's going to be great.

Q.¬† I guess the consensus is there's a high level of confusion with the early‑entry dates, the ones set by the NCAA and the ones set by the NBA, and leaves kids confused and obviously the kid from Baylor just said he was coming back and decided to enter the draft.¬† Is this something that concerns you, the April 10 date set by the NCAA that might encourage kids to make choices that are not so positive for them and that's something you've been trying to prevent?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  It does.  As I understand it, there's an NCAA business reason for having the earlier date.  Their business reason is so that the universities can know who they have to replace, and they want to fix it at the earlier date.
We don't have a business reason other than a reason to allow the youngsters to have the most amount of time to decide whether they should follow through on their decision to opt in, or, in fact, would like to stay in school another year.
We think it's good to give them the longest period of time, and it's best for their development so they have time not to make what they find in retrospect to have been a bad decision.
But I understand the NCAA's business reason for doing it, and you know, it's not the first time that different rules for different purposes have, you know, have unintended consequences, but we'll live with it.

Q.  Question in regards to the deal with your suspension on Metta.  Is the concern that's kind of arisen this past year, probably the last two years, with concussions and all of the new policies that are being put in and the emphasis, not only with his case, but in instances where you judge a flagrant foul; does that factor into the decision making, as well, in terms of being really proactive with head shots?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  We know we had a concussion here and that was just his injury.  But frankly, in a wholly separate way, we have begun to focus on these entire concussion protocols.  The number of concussions diagnosed is up this year.  Whether they are actually up or were diagnosing more, I can't tell you, because we didn't have the same uniform standards for all teams.  It is an emphasis of ours.  It will remain an increased emphasis just like our echocardiogram heart exams for all players every year, and we are continuing to look for ways to guarantee the health and safety of our players.
I can't say that it was ‑‑ it doesn't relate to the policy of the discussions, Mike.¬† It was really more‑‑ that was the injury, and it was a serious and concerning injury.¬† But it didn't link back to that policy in anything other than that way.

Q.  The discussion on adding sponsorship to team uniforms, is that inevitable?  And how intense is that debate amongst the owners?  And thirdly, have you conduct the polls amongst fans just gauging their opinion on the subject?
ADAM SILVER:  I would say it was a robust debate amongst owners.  Not that if we were to have sponsorship on team uniforms, but if we were to do it how sponsors would be represented, and technically on the jerseys, size of logos, etc.
I don't know if it's inevitable.  It's something that we are continuing to look at from a business standpoint.  We have not polled fans, but we certainly take into account what their reaction will be as we take into account what the reaction of all of our business partners would be.
Again, one of the business issues is how advertisers will respond, because unlike soccer wherefore the most part there are not commercials during games where advertisers can express their interest, we already sell enormous amount of inventory, whether it's commercial spots, naming rights, courtside signage, etc.  One of the factors we continue to look at is the impact on the overall business of selling those kind of sponsorships.

Q.  Finish off with another softball.  Considering the lockout, and you didn't know what to expect going in, and now that the playoffs are here and the season has been a success and the fans did come back, was there a point you guys could breathe and say, boy, we might have messed up, but we didn't?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN:  You know, it's interesting, we had gone into the season having done very well on renewals of season tickets, and the sales of the new season tickets.  We have had reason to be optimistic because we have been doing better from that perspective.
We thought, I would say‑‑ we were nervous going into Christmas Day; what would the fan response be?¬† But when the response was so positive with respect to the number of games, leaving aside some of the chatter about whether we should or should not have played multiple games on Christmas Day, on the one side; another is saying, my goodness, gracious, the NBA now has established themselves as a Christmas Day franchise.¬† From that point on, it really was just building, and we felt a big sigh of relief after opening day.
TIM FRANK:  Thank you very much for your questions and participating today.

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