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October 25, 2012

Adam Silver

David Stern

TIM FRANK:  Thank you very much.  Thanks to all of you for joining us for our annual preseason conference call.  Joining us is Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.  President of League Operations, Joe Litvin, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Stu Jackson, and Executive Vice President of Referee Operations, Mike Bantom.  We'll start with an opening statement from the commissioner, and be glad to take any questions that you have.
COMMISSIONER STERN:  We had a very successful Board of Governor's meeting.  We reviewed the financial results through the report of the audit and compensation committee, and it definitely appears that the collective bargaining agreement and the revenue sharing agreements are working.  That report also did include a report on how contract signings are going and how effective the collective bargaining agreement is.
We reviewed the business for the upcoming season, and I think it's fair to say that our game is very, very popular.¬† Our fans loved it last season.¬† We had a nice increase in ratings.¬† There is an enormous degree of excitement about this year.¬† In fact, as sort of an indication of that, we have renewed at our highest rate ever, we're at 86%, which is an incredible league‑wide renewal rate for season tickets.¬† We've sold more season tickets than new ones, and we are closing in on record sponsorship numbers.¬† So the game is just in a terrific state.
We've reviewed our recent international travels which were also accompanied by a review of our increasing international business, not just in China, although that was a point of emphasis, but on many other emerging regions that have promised great stuff for us.
I was able to attend the games in Berlin, Milan and Shanghai.¬† Adam attended the games in Barcelona and Istanbul, and in addition to joining me in Shanghai, he went to Beijing as well.¬† And Joe Litvin was at the Magic‑Hornets game in Mexico City, which was also a great success.
All sellouts, all focusing on improving our business, showcasing our game and demonstrating our commitment to NBA Cares.¬† Speaking of which, we had an incredible off‑season with respect to NBA players and a WNBA players, with Legends traveling the globe from Basketball without Borders events to State Department envoy program, to visits of Africa on behalf of UNICEF.¬† All in all we held more than 150 grass roots events for fans in 30 countries outside the U.S.
I would say, just a couple of other business items.  We had the Knicks presented on the transformation of Madison Square Garden.  It's going to be exquisite.  The Nets reported on their rebranding and what their extraordinary response has been in Brooklyn to them and to the new Barclays Center.  Indiana reported on its extraordinary new high def, giant video board and Houston did the same, and they both are going to change the fan experience dramatically.
And there was a detailed discussion about technology and how we can keep up with our fans.  So that was extraordinary too.
So I can't wait for the season to start next Tuesday.  I'll be in Miami to give out the rings.  I'll be in Brooklyn on Thursday.  I'm going to be at Madison Square Garden opening night, Friday.  Memphis on Monday, and speaking of Memphis the sale of the Memphis Grizzlies to Robert Pera and a group that includes local Memphians was approved unanimously, and we're really very, very excited about the prospect of that team's connection and the increased connection to the city.
In addition, Peter Holt was elected Chairman of the Board, and Peter has done a great job as a member of the audit committee and its chair, a member of the advisory finance committee.  He led as the chairman of the labor relations committee.  And despite all of that, we haven't scared him away, and he's agreed to undertake the responsibility and replace Glen Taylor who held that job for four years, which is quite the record.
I want to thank Kia Motors for joining us as title partner in the Kia NBA Tipoff for the third consecutive year, and we can't wait for the season to begin.
Oh, yes, one more development.  I informed the board that I would be stepping down as commissioner on February 1, 2014, which will be 30 years to the day that I became commissioner.  I strongly urged upon them that the appropriate successor was in house.  Because Adam Silver, who has grown up professionally in this league, is aware of every facet of our business, has succeeded at everything he has done here and is primed to lead us on an ongoing basis.  Because everything else is in really good shape, and the areas of extraordinary promise:  Growth, international, digital, network television, are all areas that Adam is deeply experienced in and has impeccable relationships with respect to those areas as well.
And I couldn't be happier that the board voted unanimously to enter into discussions with Adam about an agreement, the ratification of which in April will, I believe, be a formality.
For myself, I have agreed at the request of the board to make some time available after I leave the NBA, move out of the office completely, but wherever I am, I will be available for some assignments to be directed by the board or by Adam particularly in the international area where I have some experience.
In the next 15 months, we are going to work together on the most seamless executive‑CEO transition that we hope will serve as an example for all business not just sports leagues.
That's it.  Thanks for being tuned in, and we're open to any questions.

Q.  You alluded to it a few times over the last few minutes and of course during the Board of Governor's news conference as well.  But over these 15 months, how much of an eye will you keep on more growth in the international game, which obviously has been an emphasis of yours for some time?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  It's an area of extreme importance to us.  We're going to be opening or have opened an office in Brazil, which has, as you may recall, the World Cup in 2014, the Olympics in 2016.  And we'll be focusing on that greatly.  We just opened an office recently in Mumbai to approach the Indian market.  And we, having just gotten back from China, I'm not even sure that we can respond adequately but we'll try, to all of the requests for business partnerships and growth areas that were apparent there.
So those are areas of extreme importance, and Adam and I will be deeply involved in developing all of them as fast as we possibly can.

Q.  Congrats on the decision.  This should probably not some comments that Stan Van Gundy made on local air waves in our market pertaining to why he did not end up on ESPN.  Just to set the record straight, did you ever have any conversation with ESPN about whether they should hire Stan, and did you or anyone at the league ever dissuade ESPN from hiring him?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  The answer to your question is no.  I'm going to add one other thing.  I take great pride in expanding the opportunities of our coaches and former coaches.  It gives me pride when I see a Mike Fratello or a Jack Ramsay or that transition of Jeff Van Gundy, guys who worked as coaches finding good jobs in broadcasting as well.
When they make the jump back, whether it's Doug Collins or Doc Rivers or Kevin McHale, that makes me happy too.  I'm happy for all of our coaches who are members of the family.  But it's still the same answer to Barry, which is a firm no.

Q.  You said the collective bargaining agreement was working, and I was wondering it does seem like there's been a trend over the last decade of prominent player movement sort of drifting toward the coast in larger markets, whether it be New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago or L.A.  Maybe it's a coincidence, but when we've seen movement, that's where those people are going, for people who live in the central part of the United States, is there anything can you tell them?  Anything that the league really can do to potentially slow this trend down so some of these super teams are not existing in places where not everybody necessarily lives?
COMMISSIONER STERN:¬† Unless you meant on the coast of Lake Michigan, Chicago doesn't appear to be in the category.¬† But since we have been in the business of sports, and in my case it goes back lots of years, superstars starting with Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul‑Jabbar have had more than the ability to have a say in where they went.¬† In fact, in one of the early collective bargaining negotiations, I think I remember being in in a conversation where players said after some number of years that we should have a right to choose where we're going.¬† And strangely enough, I agree with that.
So I am not as affected by it as you are.  I mean, even if you're talking about Dwight Howard.  He was drafted by Orlando.  He spent seven years there and in lieu of the 8, Orlando got five draft picks.  That's a pretty good system in my view.  If Dwight Howard decides after seven years, which is longer than the average career in the NBA, that he'd like to be in another city, I think that's a right for which he's bargained.
We could‑‑ I'm not sure the players would agree to it again‑‑ but we could say you're not allowed to have any movement, no matter where the draft has sent you.¬† But even representing ownership, that's not a view that I ever agreed with.

Q.  I wanted to see if you could talk about the I am impetus for some of the rule changes.  Like the crackdown on the pregame rituals, the flopping, the leg kicks.  Also enforcement.  Jeff Van Gundy said on a conference call yesterday that if it was enforced, somebody might get all six flopping calls in the first game and get a suspension.  So I wanted to see what your take on that is?
COMMISSIONER STERN:¬† Well, I must say that Jeff Van Gundy is one of the strongest proponents of dealing with flopping as I recall.¬† It's an area which we are in vigorous agreement.¬† So that's number one.¬† Number two, there was no rule change with respect to the pregame rituals.¬† There's a 90‑second rule on the books.¬† And as we extend instances of instant replay, which tends to slow the game down, we are looking for our fans to make sure we can deliver a great two‑and‑a‑half hour experience.
So we're looking for ways to make sure that we should make the game fit in a certain way.¬† So we're enforcing the 90‑second rule.¬† We had thought it had gotten a little bit out of hand.¬† Will we make a big deal about it if it's 95 seconds probably not?
But it's not fair to players on teams who are visiting a building who get called out to center court to start the game and they become spectators at a game before the game.  So on two different points, it's something that we decided was a good idea to focus on.  That's all.
And flopping, we are being judicious in and not going overboard with respect to Jeff and my agreement that flopping needs to be addressed.¬† And we'll have to find sort of a gentle middle ground as to making sure that our players, who are the greatest athletes in the world play this great game, rather than engage in a little on‑court acting.¬† But I don't think it's a particularly profound issue, either the flopping or the 90 seconds.
But that's one of the problems with being the boss.  You've got to make these decisions and then you open yourself up to a variety of critics, and I accept that.  But these were recommended to me by different departments in the league, and different committees of the league, different ownerships, and we think these are going to be good for the game and the fans.

Q.  In your opening remarks you mentioned that you had reviewed contract situation presumably from the season under presumably the new CBA.  I'm wondering if you could tell us about some of the early trends you may have spotted in terms of what changed, what didn't change in terms of contracts?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  That's interesting.  There was a very long presentation.  I didn't come in here with a set of notes.  Other than to say that the length and number of years that the contracts are covering has gone down dramatically over the years.  But it continues to.  And we think that's going to make us more competitive because teams are not having to, in effect, eat remaining years of contracts.
At the same time, teams that were given amnesty or players that were amnestied, there were over $30 million of amnesty, and that tells you that nobody else picked up because those players were waived.¬† So there were some bad decisions made.¬† And the more you shorten contracts, the better it is for the players because if they're still high‑performing, they'll sign even bigger contracts at the end of their four‑ or in some cases, five‑year contracts.¬† If they're not, then the marketplace will reflect their diminution in value.¬† So to us, that was the most important trend.

Q.  My question is I'm not sure if you're aware, but the Canadian government is on the verge of passing a bill that would legalize betting on single games.  This would include NBA, NHL, Major League games.  I just wanted to know what your position was on this, and whether or not you're going to send someone to speak?  There is still a final reading for the Bill before it's put into law.  I wondered if you were going to have someone or yourself appear before the government to argue for or against it, and basically what your position is on this?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  My position generally has been that we're not in the business of encouraging governments to cause their citizens to bet on sports where that situation doesn't currently exist.  But whether in the face of a bill that's had a couple of readings and seems destined to pass, whether we're going to waste the government's time and ours by making a perfunctory trip up there, we'll have to examine it and see where it goes.  That's it.
We know that gambling exists out there around the world, but we accept the status quo, and we understand that governments who are basically hungry for money will do just about anything regardless of its demonstrated impact on its citizens.

Q.  You've been working for the NBA in some form since 1966.  It's been a really long and wonderful career for you with 16 months left to go, what are your goals before you leave?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  My predominant goal is just to assure that there is a seamless transition in the change of leadership, while at the same time driving the league forward in a variety of initiatives that are now undergoing  that are now ongoing.  Just to make sure that nothing gets dropped or lost.

Q.  Congratulations on your pending retirement.
COMMISSIONER STERN:  Don't say retirement.  I'm stepping down.  I'm going to be very busy on a variety of initiatives, some having a little to do with the NBA but most not.

Q.  I know you've been an advocate for small and medium markets.  I know a lot of people in Sacramento are hoping your continuing work with the NBA involves Sacramento.  What should they do at this point in time?  Because you've always been such an advocate for Sacramento, you've been on their side, what can they do at this point and are you in any way to sway the Maloofs or anybody else to stay in Sacramento?
COMMISSIONER STERN:¬† Well, I think that there are many people who appreciate the fact that Sacramento was, is, and can be a first‑class NBA city.¬† It is true that it needs a new building.¬† We have our differences of opinions with all of our owners, and in this case with the Maloofs on some of the issues that have gone down here.¬† But my advice to Sacramento is to continue the enormous support that you have shown for the team, and we'll see what the next steps turn out to be.

Q.  Can you talk about you've been an advocate of NBA basketball and working in New Orleans for more than a new year's.  Was it hard for you to continue to believe it when a lot of people didn't really believe it would work, and also, could you comment about how do you feel right now that this franchise is in good hands with Tom Benson as the owner?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  I must tell you that given the support of the governor, Governor Jindal, and the mayor, Mayor Landrieu, I always thought New Orleans basketball team had a home in New Orleans.  I finally knew it when Tom Benson stepped up, and I am so pleased.
I can't wait to see the reports having to do with Halloween in New Orleans opening night.  I'm sure it's going to be a hoot.  But underneath it is going to be reflected the extraordinary support that this city has shown for the team.  And which I have no doubt it will continue to show for the team for the duration of the lease, which is 12 years and way beyond that.

Q.  Have you had the opportunity to talk at all to Gary Bettman, and have any say or help or advice on the lockout that the NHL is involved in?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  I have a close relationship with Gary.  But I would say that the subject of such conversations as we have had is covered by the commissioner to commissioner privilege, and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment further.

Q.¬† Can you discuss or kind of what do you think was your biggest impact during your tenure?¬† Is there something?¬† I mean everyone can guess pulling the lead out of the tape‑delay era in sports.¬† But is there something that you would choose to think was your legacy?¬† Also, a question for Mr.Silver, was there any second thoughts about accepting the commissioner's job?¬† Is that something that you've wanted for years?¬† Can you go into what your take was when you felt like you might have a chance?
COMMISSIONER STERN:¬† Well, I'm not a big believer in the L‑word, legacy.¬† I just want people to say that he steered the good ship NBA through all kinds of interesting times, some choppy waters, some extraordinary opportunities, and managed to on his watch, the league grew in popularity, became a global phenomenon, and the owners and the players and the fans did very well.
ADAM SILVER:  I'm thrilled.  It's an enormous opportunity.  It's one that, obviously, I've been at the league for over 20 years now, so I don't think I ever had a right to anticipate it.  It's certainly something since I became Deputy Commissioner six years ago that David and I have touched on and increasingly over the last few years we've talked more about it.
But I'm enormously honored and thrilled, and appreciate the transition period that David is providing me.¬† So I'll have the next 15 months for yet even more on‑the‑job training working directly with David.

Q.  Your impressions of Robert Pera and two for the local ownership that he has recruited?  Some would suggest that the owner spends the money and the team wins.  Doesn't matter where the majority or minority owners are from.  I was wondering if you could illustrate how having local ownership helps franchises?
COMMISSIONER STERN:¬† Well, first of all, Robert Pera is one smart, hard‑working, focused businessman and basketball fan who is so delighted to have the opportunity to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies and lead the group that purchases it.¬† His enthusiasm is infectious.¬† That's number one.¬† Number two, when you have local investors like Staley Cates and Pit Hyde who are pillars of the community and can get behind the team and represent them with the key corporate stakeholders and potential season ticket fans, that is a big, big deal.
And I expect much improved financial results from the Grizzlies that will grow out of the city and the suburbs rallying around this great, great Memphis treasure known as the Memphis Grizzlies.

Q.  First of all, David and Adam, congratulations to both of you.

Q.  David, years ago you actually told me that after being named NBA Commissioner, you had an opportunity to talk with then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle about him taking on the job.  You actually mentioned a few specific words of advice that Pete had given you on approaching the job.  Have you shared any of those thoughts with Adam?  Or do you plan on sharing any of those thoughts with Adam in the future, such as the game belonging to the fans?
COMMISSIONER STERN:  I think that Adam and I have, and Adam and my colleagues at the NBA live that.  We sit around and believe it or not say, okay, let's think about the fans, and our ultimate customers here who we are supposed to make happy if we're going to continue to thrive.  Pete Rozelle's advice was about owners, and I'm not going to say anything more than that.  But you can be sure that I've shared those sage words with Adam.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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