Banking baskets: Don’t bet against Stern on this latest gamble

Dec 16, 2009 |
Banking baskets: Don’t bet against Stern on this latest gamble

Joel Huerto is the editor of and was a news editor at the Los Angeles Times.

When it comes to governing a major professional sports league, nobody is as efficient and calculated as David Stern. For more than 25 years as NBA commissioner, he has been able to manipulate situations in order to stimulate his billion-dollar empire.

He has presided over the two most successful decades in the history of the league, earning him the right to opine on just about anything, and that includes the forbidden world of sports betting.

But why would the image-conscious Stern even broach the subject of wagering on NBA games with the Tim Donaghy incident still hanging over his head?

Whatever the reasons may be, Stern believes it is worth the gamble.

The fact that The Commish is even willing to openly talk about the subject is a clear indication that he is warming up to the idea of legalized sports betting, having gained enough knowledge about the gaming business with a big assist from the Maloof family, owners of the Sacramento Kings and Palms Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

In Stern's view, it’s a win-win situation. First of all, it taps into an entirely new market for the NBA to grow its product. Second, it would be a public relations coup for the league to venture into something that could result in a highly profitable and taxable industry when it becomes mainstream. And last but not least, it somewhat diffuses the Donaghy bombshell.

“I think [Stern’s] probably getting firsthand information and getting better educated on [sports betting],” said Jeff Sherman, sportsbook manager at the Las Vegas Hilton. “He’s learned more about it and he has really softened on his stance. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Stern has been gambling for years business-wise, albeit on an entirely different level. He may not be placing bets on winners but he has certainly rolled the dice on a number of occasions that helped push the league past Major League Baseball as the second-most profitable professional sports entity in North America.

He helped institute a salary cap in the early part of the 1980s when it was considered a foreign idea. When the Players Association tried to bully him during negotiations in 1998, he locked them out and waited until they caved in.

When the NBA television contract with NBC expired in 2002, he was able to broker a unique deal with three media entities ABC/ESPN, TNT and AOL Time Warner that allowed the league to grow its resources during a time when TV ratings were sagging in the post-Michael Jordan era and media executives scoffed at the idea of using cable TV as the main vehicle for promotions.

ABC/ESPN, TNT and AOL Time Warner have since extended their partnership with the NBA through 2015-16, so it can’t be all that bad, and league execs have nearly $800 millions to smile about.

Stern is hyper sensitive when it comes to protecting the well-being of his business. He persevered through an ugly brawl in Detroit five years ago and lived to tell about it, so he knows how to put a positive spin on major issues.

Now, with a potential referee scandal staring him in the face, Stern has once again felt the need to defend his territory. Instead of backpedaling and becoming defensive, he went on the offensive and decided to face this potentially explosive issue head-on, which would explain his recent revelation.

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen to discuss the future of the league, the NBA commissioner said this about the possibility of opening discussions regarding betting on NBA games: “Considering the fact that so many state governments probably between 40 and 50 don’t consider it immoral, I don’t think that anyone [else] sho

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