Brushes with sports greatness, Vol. 3: David Stern

The year was 1995.

I was putting the final touches on a masters thesis I had no interest in writing.  I was equally uneager to see what the real world had to offer in terms of employment. While those were better economic times, I was pretty sure an 85-page expose on intellectual property rights and U.S.-Brazilian trade was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Sports was a lot different back then.  Michael Jordan had retired from the NBA, the Cowboys and 49ers were both good, nobody knew baseball was awash with steroids (wink, wink) and Brett Favre’s penis was not a matter of public discussion.

Jordan’s temporary hiatus from the league meant other teams actually had a chance to win a title.  The Houston Rockets, featuring the perpetually underrated Hakeem Olajuwon, along with Clyde Drexler, Kenny Smith, Mario Elie, Vernon Maxwell, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry, represented the Western Conference in that year’s NBA Finals.

The Eastern Conference’s best team that year was the Orlando Magic.  Those living in Florida at that time, including myself, actually felt the upstart team comprised of Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Scott and MJ’s former teammate Horace Grant, stood a shot in that series.

We were mistaken.

Four consecutive, missed Nick Anderson free throws and a gut-wrenching Kenny Smith three-pointer assured us of that.  Houston swept Orlando 4-0.

But this post is not meant to be a recap of the series.  It is, as the title mentions, another SportsChump brush with greatness.

As I mentioned earlier before I got sidetracked by NBA Finals trivia, I was about to graduate with a degree in political science/Latin American Studies, even though my first love was, and remains, sports.

I had a relative who shall remain nameless for he still feels guilty about pulling strings to get me Finals tickets. At the time, he worked for a company which had ties to the league.  Since my ex-girlfriend’s birthday coincided with the night of Game One, what kind of loving, caring and considerate partner would I be if I didn’t get her the best possible tickets available?  I was only thinking of her, I swear.

There we sat.  Fifth row.  Dream come true…. for one of us at least.

The seats were so good, we had better tickets than the Commissioner.

I was giddy, way more so than the birthday girl, when I looked over my shoulder and saw David Stern sitting alongside NBA legend Bill Russell only two rows up.

Since the NBA at that time was expanding in all different directions internationally, I figured my passion for the sport, my background and my degree in Latin American Studies made me a perfect fit to work for the Association.  I would become the league’s ambassador abroad, the man responsible for bringing the first major American sports franchise south of the border and the eventual heir apparent to David Stern. A wing in my honor would be built in Springfield, Massachusetts without ever having played a minute in the league.  Mine was a flawless plan.

I suggested to my date I should approach Stern about a job.  The ex knew me well and said I didn’t have the gumption to go through with it, although gumption wasn’t exactly the term she used.

Before she could doubt me any further, I was out of my seat and shaking hands with Power Jew himself, Commissioner Stern.

In seconds flat, I reviewed my resume, told him I was trilingual, graduating with a masters degree from Florida and wanted nothing more than to be a part of NBA expansion.  Within minutes, he had sent one of his NBA reps down to my seat to give me his business card.

Well, as you can see, things didn’t work out, maybe for the better, for if I currently worked for the league, I wouldn’t be able to speak my mind as freely as I do here.  Besides, another close friend and loyal sportschump reader knew someone who worked there and called it a sweatshop.

Either way, it goes to show you what happens when you follow your dreams, or don’t, or what happens when it takes you that long to figure them out.

The league is doing just fine without me (matter of opinion) and I’m still watching religiously with no hard feelings.  But my absence is clearly the reason there’s not an NBA team yet south of the border.  I’m not pointing fingers… or am I?

Until we meet again, Mr. Stern.

* For more Brushes With Sports Greatness, click here for Volume 1: Doc Rivers and here for Volume 2: Steve Lowery

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22 Replies to “Brushes with sports greatness, Vol. 3: David Stern”

  1. The NBA’s loss is our gain. Trilingual huh? I bet that comes in real handy in Ybor after hours:)

  2. Hmmmm, your story didn’t really make me like Stern any more or less than I already did. Good stuff though, what three languages do you speak?

    I think his rule for technical fouls is ridiculous and robbing us of what the game should be about. I mean if they are throwing Grant Hill out of games for “reacting” then something is seriously wrong. Is this stern’s way of fixing the ref problem? Make it’s so guys can’t complain about calls, so when the players aren’t complaining the refs must be making all the right calls?!? Horribly played Stern, horribly played…

  3. 5th row for Nick’s bricks? Wow! I was still living in Otown in ’95 and a big Magic fan. That series cut deep, kinda like our AM’s current losing streak. Cool that you put the moves on the Commish, guess you showed that lady your “chutzpah.” I no longer share your zeal for the Association, but still root for the Magic. Go Billy D!

  4. English, Spanish and a rusty Portuguese, Chap. I’m also quite fluent in SportsChumpese, which is a summer varietal of Cowherd/Rome/StephenA./Simmons/Zirin among others. It’s often mumbled in the SportsChump household.

    Concerning Stern, Chap, here’s the deal. I’m a Stern apologist. Always have been.

    If you look at ANY sports commissioner over time, and yes that includes Pete Rozelle, take a look at how their game expanded/got better over their tenure and I’m pretty sure Stern will rank somewhere near the top of that list.

    Listen, all basketball fans do is gripe about high-priced NBA players whining at refs. So what does Stern do? He allows the refs more leeway to penalize those players and that’s still not good enough. Guy can’t win.

    And personally, as an Orlando Magic fan, I think Grant Hill should have been thrown out of the league long ago for hand-cuffing that franchise.

  5. Al….

    Why did Jordan just spout out that he could score 100 points lately? What was the context?

    And can’t we just fast forward to a Heat-Lakers Finals? That’ll be insane, man.

  6. Yaz…

    We were sitting at about free throw line level that night so we saw the fiasco up close and personal.

    All we were thinking at that point – as I’m sure everyone else was – was ‘Just Make One, Nick.’

    He missed the first, missed the second, then got his own rebound. We knew we had to be good then, right?


    I think he went on to shoot 40% from the line that following season.

    And yes, I agree, the Gators suck. Gator Bowl bound, we are.

  7. Impressive on the languages. I’ve only got Spanish and English on my resume, but do have a slight knowledge of sportschumpeze!

    Honestly, I don’t care if guys moan about calls as long as they aren’t on my team and complaining when they should be getting back on defense (Stephen Jackson I’m looking at you).

    There’s no doubt that Stern has expanded the product, but I don’t care if the NBA is shown on other planets. I don’t care if we have the best Euro player, I just want to see the game at it’s best. I don’t feel like he’s trying to give us that, and is more worried about expanding over what the product on the floor represents. Don’t you miss some of those “mean” teams that would physically wear you down?!? Before Stern is done you won’t even be able to touch someone without a whistle getting blown…

  8. Personally, Chap, I like the fact that some European and Latin American teams have challenged our dominance. It keeps us honest. It forces our best players to take pride in their game. It keeps them in line (sort of) and makes them focus more on teamwork.

    I agree that the meaner teams have fallen by the wayside but the Malice at the Palace had a little something to do with that, again featuring your boy Stephen Jackson. Stern couldn’t have that happen again. His game already has enough of a ‘thug’ image to the outsider.

    Sure, he was never happy about those old Heat-Knicks brawls but you just can’t have any more incidents like that.

    Tempers flare so we’ll always have our altercations but heck, NBA guys (other than Kermit Washington) have never been able to throw a punch anyway.

    And you can’t tell me the league isn’t better with guys like Dirk, Manu, Gasol, Yao and the like.

  9. I guess I didn’t mean I didn’t want overseas players in the league, because Sarunas Marciulionis was one of my favorite players growing up. I meant more that I don’t care if those countries see the games, which is what his true goal is to get the NBA in every household worldwide… I think he should spend more time figuring out how to make the on court product better opposed to using his time overseas. I’d actually like to see the league contracted a little…

    I’m not really pulling for fights per say, not that I wouldn’t enjoy one if it happened, but I want to see guys on the brink of one from time to time. If they can’t say anything all game long, then I feel like that part of the game will die. That’s a big part too. I mean, what will the Bruce Bowen’s and Matt Barnes’s of the world do when defense is completely outlawed and they can’t talk to get under the skin of the opposing player!?!

    I can’t wait until a stupid technical decides an important game with a few seconds left. We’ll see how many people like the new rules then…

  10. Chap…

    It’s funny because I almost brought up Petrovic, and Marciulionis in particular, knowing your fondness for all things Warrior.

    At the end of the day (horrible use of overused sports cliche), I think we need to determine what is actually the Commissioner’s job description.

    Stern has had his cronies (Stu Jackson, etc.) enforce rules violations, but again, isn’t part of his job description to expand the game to all potential markets?

    The NFL has yet to catch on abroad and while Major League Baseball is big south of the border, it has been since before we were born.

    I know Stern’s latest move has been unpopular but it will fall by the wayside in time.

    And I have a feeling in the highly contested Eastern Conference, we’ll see plenty of fisticuffs.

    I have an idea…

    Let’s start a pool among us all to see which two NBA stars will be the first to start a semi-serious brawl.


  11. Okay, fine, Stern is doing an okay job if that’s his true job description. Is that what you wanted to hear!?!

    My money is on Anderson Vaejao and someone on the Heat, let’s say someone who rubs people the wrong way like Eddie House in their first game in Cleveland. It will all end with Mo Williams crying and asking Lebron why he left!

  12. He he, Chap. Hate away, I’m fine with that.

    But even in his crotchety years, Stern’s a better commish than both Bettman and Selig.

    And Goodell isn’t winning over any fans these days by fining players for those hits this weekend.

    I’ll see your Varejao-House and I’ll raise you a LeBron-Delonte brawl. After all, isn’t that the fight that all of us really want to see?

  13. Pingback: Sports Chump » Memorable moments of 2010: The SportsChump Year in Review

  14. Pingback: Sports Chump » Brushes with Sports Greatness, Vol. 4: Jim Bouton and Ball Four

  15. I went to an NHL Finals game with my friend Bill, the mayor. Because of his position, he was invited to buy special tickets for the game, with a buffet and open bar before the game. The thing was, those tickets were $250 each, so he wasn’t going to spend that much on a date, and preferred to go with a friend who would pay his own way. I was that friend. The seats were terrific, and when I was in the buffet line, I was standing behind NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. We chatted a bit about how good the food looked. I will count that as a brush with greatness. Not as good as the Dan Marino/Peyton Manning episode, but still good.

  16. My previous comment is awaiting moderation, but I’m going to keep writing, and tell you the Dan Marino/Peyton Manning story. It happened at the bar of the Rihga Royal hotel, on West 54th Street in Manhattan (that place later became the London, not sure what it’s called now). Janette and I were in New York for a little vacation, my mom and dad were also there, but they left the Righa bar before we ran into the QB’s. The Colts were on a bye week, and Manning was in NYC to be a guest on the NFL Today with Marino. Shortly after my parents left we noticed Marino and Manning sitting at the bar. Marino was nursing a glass of red wine, and Manning was pounding bottles of Amstel Light.

    There had recently been an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about Marino’s high school, Pittsburgh Central Catholic. So I got up the nerve to approach them and say hello. I asked Dan Marino if he had seen the article, got to shake hands with both of them before walking away and not being a pest. No photos, no autographs. As I was walking back to my table, Marino was asking Manning if he’d ever told him about his high school. The next day Janette and I went to the NFL Today filming on 59th Street, by Central Park. I got a terrific photo of Janette with Jim Nantz, they look like a couple.

    My other Righa Royal story is the time that Janette and I were having afternoon drinks at the bar, and I had my back to the door. At one point Janette said, “Is that Don King?”. Before I even turned my head around to look, I knew that it had to be him. Unmistakable. It was him.

  17. So maybe this also counts as a brush with greatness, if nothing else it’s the story of the best seats I ever had for a sporting event. In November, 1987, Janette and I went to Los Angeles for an obstetrics rotation, part of our residency. It was so difficult, LA County Hospital, on 24 hours of call every third day. I kept a list, delivered 100 babies during that month.

    So on one of our days off of call, we decided to go to a Clippers game, at the old LA Sports Arena in South Central. Because of the usual LA traffic, we arrived late. At that time the Clippers offered $12 tickets in the upper deck, and that’s what we were planning to buy.

    On our way in, there was a guy trying to sell his floor seats. He started at $50 each, but we just didn’t have that kind of money. It was late, the game had started, and we eventually gave him $30 for the pair.

    We were in the 2nd row of folding chairs on the floor. The Clippers had Ron Harper, a Miami University alum like Janette. The Charlotte Hornets had Muggsy Bogues, Alonzo Mourning, and Larry Johnson. We got doused with Larry Johnson’s sweat when he tried to save a ball that was going out of bounds. Best seats ever.

  18. Bill G (Part Two)…

    Your Marino/Manning story reminds me of an interview I heard on Stern the other day.

    It’s the end of the year so they’re airing his Best Of 2019 Interviews. The one I heard was with Def Leppard.

    Joe Elliott was telling the story of how he and his soccer-loving friend, Robert Plant, actually attended a game together way back when. (Can you imagine?)

    So there they stood, in line with the common folk, waiting for beers, when a kid with a patched denim jacket came across them.

    He stopped, looked at Plant, looked at Elliott, then walked away after shaking his head and saying “Naaaah!”

  19. Bill G (Part Three)…

    Good thing you guys were white. I hear Donald Sterling wasn’t too crazy about people of color attending his games back then. ZING!!

    And speaking of good seats, I just paid a little more than fifty bones each for seventh row seats in Orlando to see LeBron and the Lakers..

    It was well worth it.

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