Kahn's attempt at humor triggers firestorm

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 19, 2011 - 8:33 AM

The Timberwolves president faces heat after his comments about the draft lottery, which he explained were meant to be a joke.

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David Kahn, left, general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin O'Connor, center, general manager of the Utah Jazz, and Nick Gilbert, 14, right, the son of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, stand on the stage representing the final three teams during the 2011 NBA basketball draft lottery, Tuesday, May 17, 2011 in Secaucus, N.J. The Cavaliers won the lottery.

Photo: Julio Cortez, Associated Press - Ap

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David Kahn is astonished.

That was his word. The Timberwolves president of basketball operations was in Chicago on Wednesday, about to head into a predraft combine meeting. But Kahn wanted to take a moment to quell the Internet-driven firestorm that erupted over comments he made at Tuesday night's NBA draft lottery.

"I'm astonished," he said of reaction that in one case had Kahn suggesting the lottery was rigged and in another called for his banishment from the league. "But that's the world we live in."

On Tuesday, the first three picks in the upcoming draft were about to be announced, with the Wolves, Cleveland and Utah still in the running. The league had Kahn, Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor and 14-year-old Nick Gilbert stand together to hear the news. Gilbert, son of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, is dealing with a rare nerve disorder.

Utah received the No. 3 pick. The Wolves, who with the NBA's worst record had a 25 percent chance to win the lottery for the No. 1 overall pick, were revealed to be No. 2, meaning Cleveland won the top pick for the first time since 2003, when the Cavs selected LeBron James.

Afterwards, Kahn spoke to reporters at the NBA studio in Secaucus, N.J. Among his quotes was this:

"I also feel strongly that once the 14-year-old kid hit the dais with us, we were dead," he said with a smile. "There was no way. This league has a habit, and I'm just going to say a habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines. Last year it was [late Washington Wizards owner] Abe Pollin's widow, and this year it's a 14-year-old boy who I only had one thing in common with: We've both been bar mitzvahed."

Kahn intended it as a joke, and he emphasized that point again Wednesday. He noted that the reporters surrounding him Tuesday night chuckled.

"It was completely meant in a lighthearted fashion," he said Wednesday. "And it was received as such. Nobody followed up with, 'What are you trying to say?' Nobody's antenna went up. ...

"Nobody there listening said, 'He's trying to [suggest a conspiracy].' It was the opposite. They laughed. They knew it was a joke."

Moments later, in a conference call with Twin Cities media, Kahn made a similar comment: "I did tell [O'Connor] ... as soon as the 14-year-old kid joined us, we were toast. There was no way the 14-year-old was about to be denied in a league that has a habit of compelling story lines."

Talk about a tempest. Kahn has never been a favorite of the national media, and Wednesday was no exception. The Internet went white-hot with condemnation of the comments.

ESPN's Chad Ford tweeted that Kahn had insinuated the lottery was rigged. "Can't wait to see that fine," Ford wrote. A headline in the Huffington Post said, "David Kahn ... hints that the NBA draft lottery might have been rigged."

CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel, in a blog entry title, "So long, David Kahn," suggested Kahn should be banished. "Kahn moved an entire league one step closer to game-fixing referee Tim Donaghy," he wrote. "And that's a step that cannot be tolerated."

In a postscript to that blog, Doyel amended his comments after watching the video of Kahn's interview in New Jersey, saying, "It's not nearly as nefarious as the stories coming out of the draft suggest."

For the record, Kahn said he was not suggesting any skullduggery. "The first question I was asked [Tuesday] night ... was whether the Timberwolves were jinxed for our lottery record through the years," he said. "I don't believe in jinxes, curses, hocus-pocus and I certainly don't think we were wronged. But I do believe in the power of story, and it's a heck of a lot better story for a 14-year-old kid to beat out a couple of middle-aged executives standing together on a national stage, and that our league tends to have its own share of luck in being a part of those stories.

"That was the entire meaning of what I said last night in a joking fashion, and what I believe was received in such a fashion."

Kahn said the league had him miked up from 45 minutes before the lottery went on, intending to use what they got for a show that will run later. He noted wryly that the league encourages folks to be compelling and funny. "On the other hand, they want to then say, 'You can't say that,' " he said.

"All I'm saying is, that's what drives sports," Kahn said. "The story lines tend to win out. It's karma. I turned to people last night, after it was over, and I said that next year, all the teams will send teenagers.''

It's not the first time Kahn has been in a similar spotlight. During an NBA TV summer league broadcast in Las Vegas in 2010, Kahn and Chris Webber had a set-to after Webber took exception to Kahn's effusive praise of center Darko Milicic. Also last summer, in a local radio interview, Kahn said Michael Beasley's problem in Miami was due to him smoking marijuana. Both Kahn and the team were fined $50,000 each for that.

Kahn said Wednesday that he hadn't heard from the league about his comments and didn't know if he would be fined.

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