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October 2, 2013 Wednesday
834 words
NBA global games are proud accomplishment for Stern
Sam Amick, @sam_amick, USA TODAY Sports

First things first, David Stern isn't having any second thoughts.

The NBA commissioner who has spent the last three decades building this basketball empire will still step down Feb. 1, handing the playbook that worked so well over to his handpicked successor, deputy commissioner Adam Silver. It has been more than 50 years since he had a break in his schedule, and Stern -- who spoke to USA TODAY Sports as training camps opened around the league -- is more than ready for retirement.

"Someone asked me today, when was the last time that you didn't have to do something?" said Stern, who was hired as NBA general counsel in 1978 and became commissioner in 1984. "I think it was when I went to camp as a teenager. You go to college (at Rutgers), and you hustle to get into law school (Columbia). Then you go to law school and you hustle to get a job, and you get a job and you hustle to become a partner, and you step into the NBA, and Lord knows it washes over you."

As the preseason begins Saturday in Istanbul with a matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker, it's a fitting way for Stern to start his the final stretch.

The globalization of the game, a push that started when the Washington Bullets faced Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel in 1978 and will continue with a record number of teams playing international games this season (12), is on Stern's short list of accomplishments for which he is most proud.

Stern took over back when some playoff games were still being aired on tape delay. He now stewards a league that boasts revenue surpassing $5 billion and record popularity. He wasn't sure how far the NBA's reach could go when he first started this global mission.

"I think it's an old business lesson -- you sense that there's an opportunity, but anyone who tells you that they know the parameters of it is telling you a story," Stern said of the global approach. "You just push and you try, and so because we began working with FIBA in 1987, we had the first McDonald's championships in '88 in Madrid. ... And then FIBA suggested that we go to the Olympics, so that happened really sort of spontaneously in an interesting kind of a way. It was one opportunity after another, and here we are."

Are they ever. The NBA, without question, has made its mark worldwide.

After eight preseason games and two regular-season games are played in 10 cities and seven countries and territories in the 2013-14 campaign, the NBA will have hosted 148 games in all while having two regular-season games in two countries outside the USA and Canada for the first time (the Minnesota Timberwolves face the San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City on Dec. 4; the Atlanta Hawks face the Brooklyn Nets in London on Jan. 16). First-time preseason games are being played in the Philippines and Brazil and the cities of Manchester, England, and Bilbao, Spain.

In 1992, the year of the Dream Team, the NBA featured 21 international players. In the 2012-13 season, there were 85 international players in the NBA and a record for one team of nine on the San Antonio Spurs.

The NBA's social media following is enormous, with more than 445 million likes and followers worldwide on Twitter and Facebook, respectively, for league, teams and players.

"Sometimes I liken myself to a captain of a ship, where you make short adjustments as you chug along. But the enterprise is the ship, and sometimes it feels more like riding a bronco," Stern said. "But in either event, it's an enormously fun ride and you ride it to where it takes you. The global games are just the next iteration of where we're at."

As for the notion that the growth of these Global Games might lead to the day when NBA teams are housed in Europe or beyond?

"I don't know the answer (to that question), but we're beginning to take the steps," Stern said. "Now we've played a series of games -- more than one, or two, and this year more than three -- regular-season games in London. We will now play multiple regular-season games in Mexico. We have played multiple regular-season games in Japan. And we'll have to see how that works.

"I think at some distant point in the future, it may result in serious consideration of (more international) franchises, but that's better for talking than for doing at this point. But I do think it will lead to discussions with various groups in Asia about NBA-sponsored or NBA-branded competitions in the like as this incredible population mass and growth looks for opportunities to associate with our game."

A game that he's ready to leave in Silver's capable hands.

"The opportunity to tie it up and spend, in effect, 36 years in one place ... and to see the growth that we've had, and to be able to participate in the selection of the next CEO, is a unique and fulfilling opportunity," Stern said. "I think Adam is going to do a great job. And I think that's one of the ways that I'll be judged, in some ways, is by having a successor in place.

"All around, it's pretty exciting. No second thoughts at all."

October 2, 2013

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