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Sacramento Kings honor David Stern for keeping the team in town

Former NBA commissioner gets his name on a street outside new arena

Two years removed from his role as NBA commissioner, David Stern remains incredibly busy. So in the midst of all of his postretirement activities — including preparation for Tuesday’s announcement that the Sacramento Kings are naming a street after him — Stern hadn’t heard about Michael Jordan’s statement on Monday about the recent shootings by police officers and the targeted killing of police.

After he was filled in about the actions of the most popular player during his 30-year-tenure as commissioner, Stern was not surprised.

“Michael feels deeply about social issues,” Stern said. “It’s too bad we live in a society that’s so polarizing. Everything that’s going on is a shock to our system.”

Michael Jordan’s full statement

When Stern retired in 2014, he was credited with taking the league from a time when its image was so bad that finals games were aired on tape delay to a global success in which games now are shown in more than 200 countries. Stern’s impact on the pro game and his assistance in keeping the Kings local are behind Tuesday’s announcement by the team to create a new address, 500 David J. Stern Walk, just outside the Golden I Center, its new 17,500-seat arena that will open in October.

The Kings moved to Sacramento, California, during Stern’s first year as commissioner and by the turn of the century had emerged as one of the top teams in the league. But as the team later lost its elite status, its owners, the Maloof family, began discussions with a long list of cities — including Anaheim, California; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Seattle — looking to lure the team away.

In 2013, a Seattle group agreed to buy the team, but the NBA’s relocation committee recommended against it. A Northern California group led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé stepped up with an offer to keep the team in Sacramento and build the new arena, which opens in October. Stern oversaw the negotiations, which resulted in a sale price in 2013 of $534 million, a record at the time.

“I opened the first ARCO Arena and the second one, so I have a warm spot in my heart for Sacramento,” the 73-year-old Stern told The Undefeated during a phone conversation on Monday. “I think it’s a wonderful gesture, and I’m deeply touched, I’m just not sure I’ll be able to get into the same tuxedo.”

As Stern became commissioner in 1984, he took over a league in trouble. The NBA back then was perceived as being too black. Its players had less than stellar reputations, particularly for drug use. It wasn’t attractive to advertisers, which is why four of the six games during the 1980-81 NBA Finals were shown on tape delay.

But Stern’s first year as commissioner also coincided with the entrance of Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon into the league. Adding Jordan to the mix of the two stars credited with helping save the league — Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird — led to increased endorsements for its players and global appeal. The Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat paid $32.5 million expansion fees when they entered the league in 1988. With increased popularity and television revenues over the years, the value of an average NBA team today is more than $1 billion.

In his conversation with The Undefeated, Stern also touched on some of the recent developments in the NBA.

Moving the All-Star Game from Charlotte because of a new state law: “I’m proud of [commissioner] Adam Silver. That was anti-gay legislation. It cheapens the conversations to say it was about bathrooms.”

Increase in activism of current players: “The social responsibility of our teams is extraordinary. We’ve always encouraged our players to speak their minds; that’s what the NBA does, that’s what our teams do.”

Retirement of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan: “Two amazing players. I thought Tim had a shot at six rings. As it stands, that’s the quietest five titles ever. They are two of the greatest players in our history, and they deserve all the credit coming to them. I hope they stay connected to the game.”

Which is exactly what Stern has done over the past two years, working as a consultant to the NBA, as well as an adviser to various law firms and banks.

Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Stern is flattered that a team in Sacramento decided to name a street after him. He’ll fly to Sacramento for the street dedication outside of the $536 million arena just before the start of the NBA season.

“I’ve seen the drawings, and it’s going to be an extraordinary building,” Stern said. “I’m looking forward to spending some time there.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.