Stern admits West is best, and NBC shows it agrees


April 22, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

The NBA is great. The NBA is great. The NBA is great.

Commissioner David Stern would be quite happy if you would chant the above silently to yourself during the playoffs as the game slows to its inevitable postseason crawl, pending next season's new rules that will, hopefully, open up the flow.

Stern, who began the season asking writers not to believe the Western Conference was better than the East, has had to back off that stance, with all but four Western teams over .500, while six Eastern teams lost 50 games or more.

"At the preseason conference call, I told everyone not to rush to judgment, let the season play out and maybe the West wasn't as strong as everybody said it was. Well, I was wrong," Stern said on a season-ending conference call last week. "The West is very, very strong, I think probably the most dominating between two conferences, just about, that we've ever had, and in the last several years for sure."

The imbalance between conferences is so strong that, during this first playoff weekend, the openers of all four Western playoff series will air on NBC, the league's over-the-air carrier, while only two Eastern series openers - the Philadelphia-Indiana and New York-Toronto matchups - will air on the Peacock.(And, by the way, if anyone at NBC or the NBA is listening, watching the Knicks play is like watching paint dry. How about letting us see Milwaukee-Orlando, with teams that can actually score some points?)

Still, Stern says that people will watch the playoffs just fine - regardless of conference - and that there's no need to worry about any imbalance or to seed teams regardless of conference.

In other developments, Stern and his deputy, Russ Granik, said they expect to have a decision on the relocation of either the Vancouver Grizzlies or Charlotte Hornets by mid-May. Both teams have applied to move to Memphis, and a committee is expected to form soon to study their requests.

Stern took exception to recent comments from Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy that religion and fraternization among players has harmed the league.

"I think that our players are very much co-travelers in an important endeavor, and the notion that they're not going to be friends off the court ... tends to be dehumanizing in the sense that I've seen some very good friends go at each other in athletic competition. ...

"I've seen that happen as both a fan and employee of the league, where I've watched a couple of people who you'd think would want nothing to do with each other based on some of their on-court interactions," Stern said. "But the reality is that our players are part of a community, and it wouldn't surprise me for them to be friends."


Utah's John Stockton last week moved into third place on the league's games played list, ahead of Moses Malone. Name the other three active players who are in the top 10. Here's a hint: One of the three holds another endurance mark.

Off-court wizardry

For the second time in his 16-month tenure as president of basketball operations of the Washington Wizards, Michael Jordan has fired a coach, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While Gar Heard, who was dumped in January 2000, and Leonard Hamilton, who was fired last week, are both knowledgeable basketball men, they were also unsuited for their posts.

That's all well and good, but what isn't is the appalling way that Jordan set about dismissing them. Last January, while attending a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, Jordan dialed up Wizards general manager Wes Unseld by cell phone and had him deliver the bad news to Heard, rather than come back and do the dirty deed himself.

At least last week, Jordan actually had the intestinal fortitude to can Hamilton himself and face-to-face, but only after rumors of Hamilton's successor, Doug Collins, were starting to surface in Chicago.

But even then, Jordan handled the firing badly, summoning Hamilton to his MCI Center office seconds after a season-ending loss to Toronto and keeping him there for two hours, ostensibly to work out a settlement on the remaining three years of his deal, but possibly to avoid having news of the firing get out on the 11 p.m. news.

In the final indignity, Jordan left Hamilton alone to explain his fate, without a statement from the team, and to tell reporters that the resignation had completely been the coach's idea. Jordan had to admit to the truth Thursday, when Collins was introduced, that he was prepared to fire Hamilton had he not resigned.

Jordan may turn out to be as great a front-office executive as he was a player, but the early evidence suggests he has a long way to go.

Quiz answer

Indiana's Sam Perkins, Miami's A. C. Green and Stockton's teammate, Karl Malone, are also on the games-played list, coming in at seventh, eighth, and ninth, respectively. In addition, Green holds the league record for consecutive games played.

Quote of the Week

"We'll beat San Antonio. The entire premise of San Antonio's defense is to make it very difficult to score inside. We don't go inside. It's a defense set to stop things we don't do."- Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, about the Timberwolves' first-round meeting with the Spurs.

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