This morning, NBA commissioner David Stern rang the Opening Bell as part of the 30-year anniversary of U.S.-China diplomatic relations. I caught up with Stern at the New York Stock Exchange.
Darren: You don't necessarily think NBA and China. But in 1979, thirty years ago, the Washington Bullets actually played there and the league has been playing in China since 2004. They have several Chinese sponsors, Beijing was a big success and you have an arena development program there now. Tell us about that.
Stern: Well, together with AEG, we're going to develop probably a dozen arenas in China. We're working together on the Beijing Olympic basketball arena, which is up already. We have the Shanghai arena and the Guangzhou arena. And we expect to do nine more in the next several years. We think it's a great market. And the Chinese entered a basketball team in the 1936 Olympics. We have some argument. They think they invented the game. But we don't argue too much about that.
Darren: Let's talk a little bit about the economy. The NBA laid off about nine percent of its workforce, about 80 people. Teams have been incredibly creative in terms of their ticket packages. What have you encouraged and what have you seen in during these times.
Stern: Well, our attendance is actually up a skosh as of this morning when we look at it. Our gate receipts will probably be about flat, up a little bit in the U.S. We're sharing best practices with our teams as they work hard to provide better value for the fans and get ready for the renewal of their sponsorships and the season tickets. We think that by working hard, providing better value, watching our costs very carefully and prudently, that we'll be able to get through this in pretty good shape.
Darren: There's a lot of talk here in New York about Stephon Marbury, whether you believe the Knicks or Stephon Marbury, the bottom line is he's not playing at $21 million, which doesn't look good in this economy. Do you feel there's any reason to get that settled as soon as possible because of that perception?
Stern: Then you would stop talking about it. The media here has been talking about it probably since July. I think we'll let Stephon and the Knicks work that out in their own way, at their own pace, I might add.
Darren: Does all the talk about LeBron being a free agent in 2010 disturb you, since there's not the focus on 2008 and 2009?
Stern: It's a little like who do you think will run for the Republicans in four years (for president)? That's just a media-driven idea. And we like the idea that people are interested in our sport. The rules allow for player movement. And if you allow that, you're invariably going to have comments about it. It's not for us to control.
Darren: I think Bill Clinton was a college basketball fan. Both Bushes have been baseball fans. Obama is definitely a basketball fan and you're kind of working with the White House to do something with a basketball court. How does it benefit you to have a basketball fan as the president of the United States?
Stern: Well, I think our game is the most global of games and president-elect Obama is planning to make a very great effort to connect the U.S. and the world even more than we are connected and basketball hopes to play a very important role in that connection.
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