Hartman: Stern made his mark with NBA's growth

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2013 - 11:32 PM

The commissioner, appearing in the Twins Cities on Wednesday, also helped keep the Wolves in Minnesota.

The probable final visit to Minneapolis by NBA Commissioner David Stern, who is retiring next February, brought back the memory of how Stern once blocked the sale of the Timberwolves in 1994 by club owners Marvin Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner for $152.5 million to a New Orleans group led by Top Rank of Louisiana, with the new owners planning to move the team starting with the 1994-1995 season.

And what a job Stern has done turning what was a minor league when he took over in 1984, to a big-time major league sport.

As for Stern keeping the Timberwolves in Minnesota, the sale was made on May 23, 1994, but on June 21, the NBA Board of Governors told Wolfenson and Ratner that they couldn't sell the team to Top Rank.

Had Stern and the NBA not acted, the Wolves would have moved. At the same time Wolfenson and Ratner were in the process of selling Target Center to the state of Minnesota for $42 million.

On Aug. 6, 1994, I wrote in a column that local NBA fans should throw a testimonial dinner for Stern, chief of staff Adam Silver and the relocation committee for sticking their necks out to make sure the Timberwolves remained in Minnesota.

Speaking of that decision, Stern said here Wednesday: "I think that the deal that was raised, suggested that the franchise could be sold and that the NBA Board of Governors wasn't part of the process.

"That's always something that offended me, because my job is to protect the parameters of the Board of Governors, and as I recall, I said, 'Not so fast.' The result was, I think it was [decided in a] federal court here in Minneapolis, but I remember being offended by the process that the buyer thought they could do [that].

"I said, 'No, no, no, I worked too hard to protect the parameters of the board,' and I felt that we had just expanded, I can't remember the year, we had just brought them back in '89, they were here for five years and you come into a market and you say you're going to do everything great and then, all of a sudden, you're gone?"

Eventually on Aug. 5 of that year, the Timberwolves were saved for this area when Glen Taylor and a group of partners bought the club for $90 million.

I have a good idea of what Stern has accomplished since he took over as commisioner in 1984. I helped start the Lakers here in 1947 and ran it along with Max Winter until they were sold to Bob Short in 1957. I also was involved in starting the Chicago Packers (later Zephyrs) as the first modern expansion franchise in 1961 and was involved in running it through 1963, when the team moved to Baltimore, and until it was sold to Abe Pollin in 1964.

Stern has turned over what was a minor-league operation compared to the NFL, NHL and MLB into a fantastic league, with interest spreading all over the world.

Taylor and Stern

One thing that amazed me about Stern is his great relationship with Taylor despite the fact that on Oct . 27, 2000, Stern stripped the team of three first-round draft choices, levied a $3.5 million fine, suspended Taylor and executive Kevin McHale and sent Joe Smith, who was a part of a serious salary-cap violation, into free agency. Still they were able to become close friends, with Taylor recently completing his second term of being chairman of the NBA Board of Governors.

"That didn't stop me from respecting Glen as a businessman and as a person, and I would say that we have become very good friends and we work closely together, with him as chairman," Stern said. "I have enormous respect not only of his business acumen but for his very, very serious concern for this team and its future."

About Taylor having put the team up for sale, Stern said: "He wants it to stay here and all discussions about sale revolve around finding a person, or persons, who will commit to keeping this franchise in the Twin Cities."

About the penalties the Wolves were given in 2000: "I don't think I ever got in a position where we took it personally," Taylor said. "I never took it personally although there were some difficult times there for awhile."

About the job Stern has done, Taylor said: "I just think he sets an example of probably how professional sports needed to evolve. The NBA is a brand not only in the United States but across the world. He has taken us into international markets.

"When David started, I think the average player salary was $250,000. Now the average is $5 million."

The NBA now has 11 offices in cities outside of the United States, is televised in 215 countries in 43 languages, and operates the WNBA and the National Basketball Developmental League under Stern's watch. The growth of the sport has been unbelievable because of Stern, who definitely should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame sooner rather than later.

U football recruits

Yes, the Gophers football team signed only one in-state player in Wayzata linebacker Chris Wipson among the 19 players who inked tenders Wednesday to become future Gophers football players.

There will be criticism about the number of out-of-state players added to the Gopher roster, but there were six players in the entire state of Minnesota who signed with BCS schools.

Of that group, the Gophers seriously recruited only two: the top recruit in the state in James Onwualu of Cretin- Derham Hall, who had his heart set on Notre Dame from day one and, even though he attended the Gophers camp, he wasn't interested in Minnesota. They visited briefly with Cooper defensive back Malik Rucker, but he decided on Iowa.

Another defensive back, Keelon Brookins of Tartan, originally committed to Minnesota, but unfortunately suffered injuries to both knees this past season and played in only three games. He signed with Wisconsin.

The Gophers coaching staff might be wrong about the number of players from Minnesota who will go to the North Dakota and South Dakota schools, but other BCS schools aren't recruiting them, either.

Schroeder makes pros

Former St. Thomas Academy standout Jordan Schroeder of St. Louis Park hasn't scored an official NHL goal yet, but the Vancouver Canucks rookie, who will play here tonight, did score the game-winning goal in a 2-1 shootout victory over Chicago last Friday. Schroeder, who scored 19 points in 30 games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL this year, has two assists in seven NHL games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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