David Stern, the recent former commissioner of the NBA, regaled a crowd Monday of 1,600 people at the JUF's Lawyers & Government Officials, Foods & Hospitality and Wholesalers, Retailers & Manufacturers Divisions Dinner, the last trade dinner of the season.
As commissioner for 30 years until stepping down in February, Stern helped shape American basketball into the highly profitable sport it is today, with broad national and global appeal. After Stern spoke to the crowd, he answered questions by Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox.
Violinist David Lisker also spoke at the event about the many ways his family was helped through the network of JUF agencies when they emigrated to the States from Russia when he was a boy.
In Stern's remarks, he said he had the greatest job in the world as NBA commissioner because he had so many opportunities, including traveling the world, and befriending people like the late Nelson Mandela.
Stern expressed his love for sports, and the basketball in particular, pointing to a few aspects:
First, sports level the playing field. "Sports are egalitarian," Stern said. "It doesn't matter where you come from and who you are, only that you have game."
Second, he loves that every single NBA team in America plays in beautiful, newly renovated stadiums, all built since 1987, he said.
Finally, he said he's impressed by the phenomenon of sports marketing. "Michael Jordan exploded the notion," Stern said, "that great athletes of color couldn't be a…spokesperson."
On the negative side, he said, sports still suffer from racism and anti-Semitism. For instance, after the professional basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Euroleague championship earlier this month, Stern read all kinds of anti-Semtic comments in the Twitterverse.
His worst moment in his career, he said, was when his friend Magic Johnson revealed he was HIV-positive. "We thought he was going to die," Stern said. Instead, though, Johnson "changed the debate…through sports" in a positive way.
As for the elephant in the room--banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling--a cautious Stern read what seemed to be his only prepared notes of the night: "[Regarding] the LA Clippers affair, where secretly recorded tapes were released, that let to censure, banishment, sale, and litigation," Stern said. "…I guess I would say don't judge a league by any of its problems. Judge it by their reactions to them."
He told the room full of lawyers that that's all he wanted to say on the matter since "I used to be a lawyer."