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At first Storen claimed he dropped Rhodes because he did not have a "big enough name." Later he said he did not want to give his real reasons because they would do the coach "irreparable damage." (Rhodes eventually sued Storen and the Colonels for $2,050,000—asserting that this innuendo itself had damaged him—and won the case in an out-of-court settlement.) Throughout this period Storen had been telling the press off the record that he had had to fire Rhodes because he was a "bigot," a charge Rhodes denies, although Storen surely believed it to be true.
Storen's battles with the Louisville press continued throughout his stay in Kentucky. Last year, for instance, Cox wrote to Colonel star Dan Issel offering him space for an expose on what was wrong with the team. Storen, in turn, invited Times Reporter Jim Terhune to do a story in the Colonels' program on what was wrong with his paper's sports department.
Cooler heads in the local press viewed these shenanigans with amusement until last spring when rumors of the sale of the Colonels were heard in Louisville. Instead of admitting that the transaction was in the works or simply not commenting, Storen denied that any sale was being considered. "That's when the bloom came off Mike's rose as far as I was concerned," says one Louisville reporter. "This is one case where he clearly wasn't telling the truth."
The franchise was sold in April to a Cincinnati group, and a few weeks later controlling interest was resold to a former Louisville owner, John Y. Brown Jr. Brown put the team in his wife's name and, in Storen's view, indicated that he intended to run the club his way. "There was no use fighting it," Storen says. "He owned the team, and if he wanted to run it, he'd run it. Since I can't work under those conditions, I decided to quit." Storen, who still regards operating a franchise as the most interesting job in sports, thus was free to become commissioner and, to no one's surprise, accepted the post less than two months later.
Predictably, he has approached his new job with zeal. He has a corned beef on rye at his desk every day instead of taking the long luncheon breaks of his predecessors. He has remained accessible, steadfastly refusing to get an unlisted telephone number (nor did he even after the threats in Kentucky). And he has appeared unconcerned about whose toes he treads on.
He began his commissionership by threatening to seize the Memphis franchise from the grasp of no less than Charles O. Finley. With a general manager and coach of his own choosing ready to swoop down the Mississippi, and with the backing of the league's other owners, Storen told Finley to begin operating his team in a "viable" manner or the ABA would take it away from him, something no league has ever done on grounds other than bankruptcy. Charlie O. promptly hired a coach and office staff, and when the exhibition season opened a few days later the Tarns were, in a manner of speaking, ready to operate. By that time Storen had embarked on a 24,000-mile jaunt around the league, visiting every franchise, talking to every player, meeting with every front-office person from presidents to radio announcers and secretaries, letting those working in the ABA know that the league was alive and that he intended to make it livelier.
Since then no one in the ABA can be in doubt that Storen at least is alive. He removed the numbers from the referees" jerseys and eliminated pregame introductions of officials, hoping to reduce the volume of personal insults and to remind the officials, many of whom came from the NBA at substantial cost to the ABA, that though they are highly paid, they are still mere adjuncts to the game. His league memo No. 572 outlined—complete with a diagram—the formations in which players, coaches and trainers should stand during the national anthem. "Each individual will stand at attention at a 45-degree angle facing the flag," it reads in part. It has since been enforced by fines against teams that risked more casual postures.
Storen seems to enjoy making those high-visibility decisions that most commissioners apparently shun because they are edgy about public relations. In November he suspended Indiana Coach Slick Leonard, a penalty that had never before been levied against a pro basketball coach. He suspended Referee Jimmy Clark for overreacting in a tense game and ejecting a player without sufficient cause. He ordered the replaying of the closing seconds of a Spurs-Pacers game that had been protested by San Antonio. The NBA had existed for 24 seasons before its first protest was honored.
In the Leonard case—he had rolled a ball rack at an official during a game in Indianapolis—Storen had received word of the incident, personally accepted the referees' reports, talked by phone with other witnesses, tried to hunt down films or videotapes of the game, which ultimately proved unavailable, ordered Leonard and the Pacer president to fly to New York, held a hearing and pronounced sentence ($1,000 fine and a two-day suspension) all by 11 p.m. on the day after the game. By contrast, when NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy fined and suspended Chicago's Dick Motta in January, he waited nearly two weeks to render his decision and chose to announce it before the assembled media at his league's All-Star game in Seattle. Kennedy then told the press it could no longer call him a wishy-washy commissioner, an epithet that is never likely to be applied to Storen.
Recently Storen vetoed Virginia's sale of high-scoring George Gervin to San Antonio on grounds that the Squires, which are up for sale, would be rendered almost talentless and fanless by the deal. Virginia partisans already were disgruntled over the number of high-salaried players—Rick Barry, Julius Erving and Charlie Scott among them—unloaded by Owner Earl Foreman. But, as in the case of the Kentucky papers, Storen was up against forces he could not control. The Spurs challenged his action in a Texas court and it ruled Storen had overstepped his authority, a most uncommissioner-like faux pas. Last week an injunction was issued that ordered Gervin to remain in San Antonio.