Former NBA commissioner talks China controversy at UMass

David Stern addresses the NBA’s touchy subject.


AMHERST — David Stern visited the University of Massachusetts Amherst at a peculiar time.

While the NBA boils in social conflict, Stern delivered a lecture on Wednesday night, in part to discuss social responsibility.

Earlier this month, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey incited an outbreak of tension after tweeting in support of Chinese pro-democracy protestors. Since then, every Chinese business partner cut ties with the league and several preseason games were stripped off Chinese television.

“I think (the Chinese business partners) will come back by themselves,” Stern said. “If the NBA continues to do business the way it does business, with integrity and directness, they will continue—there’s a need—people want to have relief from everyday life.”

While current commissioner Adam Silver said the league will not limit free speech with its employees, NBA off-the-court icons like LeBron James and Steve Kerr attempted to stray from the controversy. Still, James created discord of his own, failing to take a side after continuously fighting for justice throughout his career.

“What LeBron tried to say—and he didn’t say it that artfully—is that you should know what impact your remarks might have before you make them,” Stern said. “Daryl Morey made some remarks that had an impact far beyond their local nature, which he had a perfect right to do. But, they put certain players in harm’s way—not in harms that they were under threat or anything like that—but it had an impact that the two teams in China at the time had to deal with.”

Stern claimed reports were wrong about the league apologizing to China and said he’s proud of the way the league handled itself.

The former NBA chief credited two principal influences that now reflect his views on social responsibility: Magic Johnson’s HIV-positive announcement and a trip to South Africa where he met Nelson Mandela. The former South African president told Stern he believes sports can bring people together. Now, Stern says social issues can support the league and players too.

“Our players went from the basement of the celebrity pyramid to the very top of the pyramid. That’s not only good for them, and good for the issues for which they speak, that’s good for the league and good for business. So, it really is a win-win-win,” he said.

Stern plans to stay in school this week, visiting sports management classrooms and the UMass basketball team.

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