AS THE elevator
doors open on the Manhattan skyscraper's 15th floor, you almost expect to see
staffers at NBA headquarters throwing confetti and wearing party hats. They
have much to celebrate--an attractive Finals matchup, postseason TV audiences
that are significantly larger than in recent seasons and near-daily bouquets
from the media for rules changes that have led to a more free-flowing style of
The view from
David Stern's office hasn't been this sunny in years. When the commissioner sat
down with SI's Phil Taylor before the Finals, he discussed topics ranging from
the the league's resurgence to what he wants to do when his tenure as
commissioner is finished.
SI: A year ago
the NBA was struggling to overcome the damage done by the 2004 brawl at The
Palace of Auburn Hills. Can you give the Comeback Player of the Year award to
the entire league?
DS: We've had a
very good year. Our players deserve it. There have been some less than good
years. This is a year where our players' passion for the game has been on
display as well as their respect for the game. It's been a watershed year for
people who had perhaps moved away from us. They're coming back and saying,
"Now I remember why I was an NBA fan." I think they were a bit
distracted by off-the-court activities and the publicity attendant to such
SI: One of the
ways in which the league has tried to change the way fans view the players is
with the dress code. Some would say that just reinforced stereotypes--that a
jacket and collared shirt indicates "nice guy," and baggy jeans and
baseball caps turned sideways indicates "thug."
DS: Maybe it did.
Look, last season's altercation in Detroit gave every newspaper writer, every
sports-talk host and every call-in person the opportunity to generalize and
call every NBA player thugs and punks. If you acknowledge that's what was going
on, the question becomes, What can we do to help our players show who they
really are? And one of the answers may be, Let's eliminate the issue of dress,
O.K.? [The guidelines] may seem small, insignificant, and they probably are,
but the feeling was, Let's get rid of the symbolism.
SI: How many
violations have there been?
insignificant number. One team called to say the hotel laundry didn't return
their player's suit, could we not fine him. Of course we're not going fine him.
Actually what has happened is that our players have gone so far beyond the
dress code that it's been fun to watch them. They decided this would be an
opportunity to go out and get new threads. Shaq's my favorite. I love his hat.
Gotta get that hat.
SI: Have the
rules changes accomplished everything you wanted?
DS: I think
[they] even made coaches reconsider the type of player that they wanted. In an
isolation offense you could probably suffer a player who couldn't shoot because
he became less relevant, as long as he could rebound and play defense. Now it's
probably a pretty good idea to have five guys who can put the ball in the