An SI writer was
invited to join NBA commissioner David Stern's five-country, eight-game,
seven-day tour of Europe last month, during which Stern schmoozed, cajoled,
teased, challenged, lectured and charmed sponsors, corporate executives,
players, coaches, NBA employees, journalists and fans. The writer also was the
direct object of all the above verbs, especially teased.
"I saw you
yawning just now," Stern said one day, "and I heard you snoring during
the ride to the airport. Is this too much for you?"
"I heard you
snoring too," the writer said.
"Yes, but I
have an excuse," Stern answered. "Unlike you, I'm actually
OVER RUSSIA. Cue a disembodied voice from the front of the private plane:
"Harry (the Horse) Gallatin. Nat ( Sweetwater) Clifton. Kenny Sears. Carl
The other four
passengers begin to stir. What's he talking about?
Simmons. Ray Felix. Richie Guerin. Dick McGuire."
The voice is flat
and nasal, a New York City voice. The names are of assorted New York Knicks
from the 1950s, the Knicks of David Stern, son of a Manhattan deli owner,
graduate of Columbia Law School and a man whose bust would appear on a Mount
Rushmore of league commissioners, right there next to Kenesaw Mountain Landis
and Pete Rozelle.
Stern offers his
early-morning litany to rouse himself between yawns and stretches. In the
course of 60 hours he has flown across the Atlantic, taken a dozen meetings,
answered questions at a half-dozen press conferences, shaken a thousand hands,
signed a hundred autographs, witnessed basketball games in Barcelona and Rome
and pressed the flesh at two postgame receptions. He has slept for 90 minutes
of this 4 1/2-hour flight from Rome to Moscow (which turns into 5 1/2 hours
because of fog), stretched out on the front couch of the Gulfstream-4, his feet
resting on a mound of magazines (Variety, Forbes, Sports Business Journal) and
newspapers (International Herald-Tribune, The New York Times, The Wall Street
Journal) that he has perused and gutted. "I'm an inveterate clipper,"
he says, showing a binder groaning with paper. He'll snip anything that draws
his interest, particularly stories about the environment and medical
breakthroughs--along with, of course, pieces on sports and business.
But an hour and a
half of shut-eye is enough. Maybe not for the other passengers, all of whom are
younger than the 64-year-old Stern, but enough for the commissioner, who seems
to draw life from the enervation of others. "He crushes us," says
Andrew Messick, senior vice president of NBA International and two decades
Stern's junior. "Just crushes us."