Who might succeed David Stern?
When David Stern retires, NBA could promote deputy commissioner Adam Silver
Bill Bradley, Jerry West and Jerry Colangelo are well-regarded possible candidates
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is responsible for forming a succession plan
It was the closest thing to banter during NBA commissioner David Stern's preseason taping for The Charlie Rose Show, a momentary step back from the relaxed questions and answers of the Emmy Award-winning interviewer's signature conversations:
Rose: "How long will you do this?''
Stern: "Probably as long as you. We're pretty close in age. And I've been doing my job longer than you've been doing yours.''
Rose: "Well, no you haven't. Only this show.''
Stern: "I just shot a little something for your 18th anniversary, OK?''
Rose: "How long have you been commissioner of the NBA?"
Stern: "Twenty-five years."
Rose: "But I was doing interviewing before 25 years.''
Stern: "Not that much. ... You hit your stride on this show. You are the best.''
Come on, this was PBS, so you could expect more thrust and parry than towel-snapping in the shower room. But at one point, Rose mentioned Pete Rozelle's 30-year tenure as commissioner of the NFL (29 years, 10 months to be exact) and Stern waved him off, saying he wouldn't threaten that mark. In more recent, more direct questioning from SI.com colleague Jack McCallum pegged to Stern's 25th anniversary Sunday, he tweaked that stance:
McCallum: "Will there be a 30th anniversary? A 35th? A 45th for that matter?''
Stern: "There won't be a 35th, I can tell you that, and it doesn't pay to speculate on 30. What has made it possible for me to get things done here all these years are, of course, the players but also my colleagues. ... The real heroes who do the job and make it fun are the people of the NBA and our owners, who are, by and large in my view, the most enlightened in sports.''
One of those owners is Glen Taylor, the self-made billionaire from Mankato, Minn., who bought the Timberwolves in 1995. Taylor was named chairman of the league's Board of Governors in October, and he said this week that one of his duties in that post -- at Stern's urging -- is to formulate a succession plan. Not for today, not for tomorrow maybe, but for the inevitable handoff that will take place.
Not to give Stern the ol' "here's-your-hat, what's-your-hurry?'' heave-ho, but let's game-play in a scenario where the commish and his wife, Dianne, staunch Democratic supporters, get rewarded with an ambassadorship to New Zealand. Or, say, he cashes his latest paycheck and finally is able to make the balloon payment on that island in the South Pacific.
Who would the NBA pursue? What would the league be looking for?
Taylor said he didn't have any specific names and wouldn't have divulged them if he had. But he said that he would utilize -- again, with Stern's encouragement -- the same framework he has used in building, improving and maintaining his business enterprises. Keep in mind, the 67-year-old founder of Taylor Corp. ranked No. 123 on Forbes' latest list of the "400 Richest Americans'' with an estimated net worth (his companies are privately held) of $3.3 billion. Taylor bought a Mankato print shop in 1975 and built it into the world's dominant provider of wedding invitations, stationery and other printing products. His more recent agribusiness pursuits in Iowa and Minnesota include chicken farms, which in this case comes before the liquefied eggs Taylor sells to food companies and restaurants to skip the cumbersome task of actually cracking eggs.
And if Stern has done anything well in his quarter century as NBA poobah, it's been to run the league first and foremost like a business. A tremendously prosperous business for 30 owners. As Rose said in his intro to the chat that aired in December: "Under his watch, revenues increased by more than 500 percent. ... His no-nonsense approach to protecting the league and the brand he built has been widely praised.''
Right there, those are big shoes to fill on that day Stern switches to sandals.
"The first thing you look at is, What is it that made the commissioner and the league so successful?" Taylor said. "Do we have someone in place? Are there other people we should be looking at? Who are some names that we might not know about? When you ask me, 'Do we want to stay inside or will we look outside?' I'm telling you the answer is, 'Both.' ''
Whoever emerges as the top candidate will have a tougher act to follow than playing the Joker in upcoming Batman movies. Stern has brought to his job a bundle of skills that have largely defined the modern-day commissioner in professional sports. The NBA's boss has a shrewd business mind, is an uber-lawyer in negotiating with television networks and the players' union, retains a curiosity about the game, the globe and their burgeoning symbiosis, and boasts, at 66, an energy level that still staggers younger staffers.
"To try to think of a successor, I have no clue,'' New Orleans coach Byron Scott said, when the question was sprung on him. "I think he's going to get past [Rozelle], unless it gets to the point where it's no fun for him anymore. I think he enjoys the fact that this league has prospered so much. He's changed it in so many different directions and all, to me, for the better. Before he leaves, I think he wants an NBA Europe, maybe. Once that's done, he might ride into the sunset.''