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David Stern on LeBron James’ return to Cleveland: “If it makes him happy, then I’m happy”

Aug 11, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 1 Getty Images

David Stern, NBA Commissioner emeritus, has always been good for some big picture views on things.

Stern was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week and with that did a Q&A with David Aldridge for A variety of topics came up but eventually Stern was asked about LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland and what he thought. And mostly his conversation turned to something that the NBA and its owners have really wanted for a long time — more off-season buzz.

“I told LeBron, I thought that regardless of how poorly executed The Decision was, I thought the world was being horribly unfair to him. He was entitled to make that decision and he was entitled to make the decision he made. If it makes him happy, then I’m happy. I think it’s great. The additional dividend being, apparently, he has been much appreciated by the fans of the world for his decision to return to Cleveland. And I think that’s wonderful. And I think that it demonstrates how embedded the NBA is into the psyche of not just America, but maybe even the world. That during the world Cup, the second-most talked about issue was where would LeBron go? There was a baseball season going on, but everyone wanted to talk about LeBron. I thought that was a very positive development. And it sort of demonstrated something we’ve said over the years, that the drama that’s on and off the court provides fodder for our fans to think about, talk about, and get involved in some discussions about.”

Here’s the secret — you care more about trades and free agency then you do actual games. This is no a PBT thing or even a basketball thing (it’s true of football, baseball, etc.) — pretty much every team/sport centered Web site does more traffic at the peak of its off-season free agency than it does during the season or even playoffs. Bottom line is the NBA Finals are a two-city thing, free agency is a 30-city thing. Every market is involved. Throw the possibility of a superstar like LeBron in the mix and the buzz becomes a roar.

One of the perks of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (at least as the owners see it) is shorter contract lengths. In part because their mistakes come off the books more quickly, but also because it increases player movement. Guys are on the market more often and even those who are not free agents have more tradable shorter contracts.

Stern is right. Every time ESPN cut away from World Cup coverage they cut to LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony talk. I did a twitter chat during the NBA Finals and questions ran 5-1 about Kevin Love and free agency over the Finals. The NBA was the hot topic of conversation right in the middle of the baseball season and All-Star Game.

I’m tempted to say that next summer can’t match this summer… but Love will be a free agent (likely to re-sign in Cleveland, but he could leave), LeBron could opt-out (again, not leaving) and there will certainly be other big names and drama. The NBA really has a very short off-season now.

David Stern was behind a lot of that.

  1. ProBasketballPundit - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    If you love somebody, let them go.

  2. hwatt - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    except when it made LeBron happy 4 years ago to leave and create a superteam, like Boston did before that Stern clearly wasn’t happy and drove a hard CBA that made sure no teams do that again. but that’s none of my business

  3. cantonbound13 - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    Stern would have blocked it if he were comish. Much like the Paul to Lakers trade. He takes care of his buddy Mickey.

  4. csbanter - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    “And it sort of demonstrated something we’ve said over the years The drama on and off the court provides fodder for our fans to think about, talk about, and get involved in discussions about”… David Stern

    Thank goodness the NFL doesn’t share this same approach to its game. 2 guys Lebron and Melo taking weeks to decide to play, basically hogging the national spotlight for their personal satisfaction.

    There has never been a spectacle in the NFL about free agency. Then again the NFL is a team sport, the NBA would not survive if you had 29 other San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs play basketball the right way yet the NBA would prefer to bury them under a rock, and embrace the Lebrons, Melo, and others who only care about themselves.

    • Kevin S. - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      Uh, do you remember what Peyton Manning’s free agency was like?

      • csbanter - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        There was no Spring of Manning like the Summer of Lebron crap. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. The NBA markets its players more so than other sports. This is what they do, I’m just not a fan of all the tabloid stuff that comes along with it. Just one man opinion.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 11, 2014 at 8:42 PM

        Peyton Manning’s free agency tour was breathlessly covered by the media. He’s going to Denver! No, San Francisco! Can Miami even get a meeting?!

    • antistratfordian - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      Nonsense. The Heat played basketball the right way too, the Spurs just did it better in one Finals. But no one plays basketball “the right way” like LeBron James – the most unselfish NBA megastar in decades.

      And the NFL is a quarterback sport. If you don’t have a good one, you’re not going anywhere. In general.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:27 PM

        Couldn’t agree with you more, anti. LeBron has always made the right basketball play. That’s all he’s ever wanted to do on every play. The last guy i remember like that is Magic Johnson.

      • csbanter - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:38 PM

        So I guess the Baltimore Ravens had a great one when they won it all with Trent Dilfer. You are right but be fair about things. A great defense is just as or more important than the QB. I respect your opinion though.

      • antistratfordian - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:56 PM

        “In general”

        You can win a championship in the NBA without a superstar just like you can win a superbowl without a great QB. But in general it doesn’t happen that way.

  5. mogogo1 - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    I don’t care what Stern thinks. He’s completely irrelevant now. But if they’re going to ask him questions, why not ask some real questions like why he never had the guts to take on Sterling?

  6. jbeagles23 - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Anti I normally agree with you but joe flacco won the sb two years ago and Wilson last year. Neither are top tier qbs and relied heavily on their defence.

    • balsagna - Aug 11, 2014 at 6:33 PM

      That’s the exception, not the norm.

  7. seasickcecil - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    Never a spectacle? What about this guy?

  8. sportsfan18 - Aug 11, 2014 at 7:18 PM

    So Stern says this…

    “I told LeBron, I thought that regardless of how poorly executed The Decision was, I thought the world was being horribly unfair to him. He was entitled to make that decision and he was entitled to make the decision he made.”

    Guess what Stern?

    The world is unfair.

    Also, just as Lebron was entitled to make that decision, others are entitled to react to it the way they want to.

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