NBA commissioner David Stern gave a nice shout out to the 1976-1977 Portland Trail Blazers during his annual press conference at the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Speaking before the San Antonio Spurs' victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1, Stern was asked why the league's television ratings are so much higher for large-market, star-driven teams compared to small-market teams. An example of a Finals match-up between the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies was brought up as a nightmare scenario for television ratings.
Stern shot down the idea and, in the process, showed a little love to the 1977 Blazers, the only team to win a title in franchise history. Here's the whole exchange for full context; the reference to the Blazers is at the end.
Q. Until two weeks ago there was a strong possibility that the Indiana Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies could have been here at these Finals. And I can't help but feel with all my colleagues, listening to what they say, listening to what the networks say about the League, that there's a strong sense that if Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Marc Gasol and ZBo (Randolph) were here, people would have a hard time getting excited. When I say "people," I'm talking about television viewers, I'm talking about the media, I'm talking about even people in the League. Is there something the League needs to do so that when Memphis and Indiana are here, instead of Tim Duncan and LeBron James, that you and Adam can get up there and say, this is the most unbelievable Finals in 30 years?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: You have defined the problem your very self.
It's not us. It's our networks, it's the people who attribute views to us that we don't hold. In fact, everything that we have done in terms of collective bargaining is designed to level the playing field and allow teams that are well managed, no matter what their market size, to be in The Finals actually speaks against the conclusion that has been pushed by the media.
We are delighted that teams in the lower half of the league, including Miami, have the opportunity to compete for a championship. And I think here we are this year probably having moved it a little bit further along where the event will define the teams rather than the teams defining the event. This is the NBA Finals.
The best example of that of course is the NFL. You're in the Super Bowl, it doesn't matter who is in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh against New Orleans, et cetera. It's just a fixation that the media around us has, because as I see it one more time, well, the people in the league office never an attribution. No eyewitness accounts. Then again it's our friends in the media. And very sophisticated media, too, that just keeps saying that.
We love it. We love the fact that we're here with Miami and San Antonio. If it were Memphis and Indiana, and they had fought their way through to be in the championship, that would be great, too. It would be great on a global basis. We have no doubt.
Question: What do the networks need to do so when Memphis and Indiana meet the ratings are just as high as when San Antonio and Miami?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Well, they need to do the kind of promotion. They need to get the people that work for them to stop asking questions like that, and really just promote it. We'll promote it. That's what we'll do. And you'll see it. It will take care of itself.
The whole small market thing is this is a league that prides itself on Oklahoma City, Memphis, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, Indianapolis, on and on and on. Those are the cities that make it in to our league. And if they're good and they've got a young Bill Walton, they'll do all right. That's the way it works.
Walton, age 24 during the title year, averaged 18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.2 blocks that season.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter