David Stern On LeBron Not Being a Villain, the Draft Lottery and How to Stop Players from Flopping

June 29, 2012 – 7:00 am by Brad Gagnon

We’ll give David Stern this: the NBA commissioner, in his 29th year in office, can often be one hell of an interview. Only two weeks ago, he made national headlines by coming back at Jim Rome in foul fashion in response to what he felt was a loaded question regarding the potential fixing of the draft lottery.

Now, LeBron James is a champion for the first time and the lottery is still a hot topic with the draft taking place Thursday night, so tuning in to catch Stern’s interviews is a must more than ever.

David Stern joined Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York to discuss LeBron James’ reputation, the draft lottery, the format for the NBA Finals, the league’s strategy to rid the game of flopping and more.

On LeBron James being viewed as a villain and being compared to Tiger Woods:

“He did something that he probably wishes he hadn’t done. He did ‘The Decision.’ All right, that made him ‘the villain’ and you’re comparing him to Tiger Woods? The media falls too easily into the good guy-bad guy. … He carried a large burden, but he wasn’t a villain. He’s a good kid and a spectacular athlete, and now all of a sudden everybody’s running out to say, ‘Oh, now he’s got the monkey off his back, he’s not a great guy.’ He always was a great guy — he just made a mistake by doing ‘The Decision.’

On being satisfied with the draft lottery:

“I think that the reasons behind the lottery are valid to this day. I think that, in fact, there are some proposals that we’ve received from the teams that say, not only should we eliminate the lottery, we should eliminate the draft. That if you have a team that’s continually in the [lottery] because it’s doing a lousy job, why are we rewarding bad management? It’s exactly the opposite. And I sort of recoil from that because the draft was meant to help the lesser teams. So the lottery, it used to be a coin-flip between the two worst teams and there was some suggestion that there was a race to the bottom, depending on who was there. Then we put the lottery in and there was some problem because Orlando, at a very unlikely number, won it twice in a row. So then we waded it back in favor of the teams with the worst records. I think it’s pretty good now.”

On the 2-3-2 NBA Finals format:

“I think we’ve done some internal analysis and we always analyze it every year. I don’t think it makes much of a difference. It wasn’t for the sixth game. It was — people forget — I was on the phone asking editors to please send their reporters. Not only were they rough trips, they were expensive trips. And if you went, you were unique. But by having three games in one city, it allowed international editors to send [reporters with more convenience]. But also domestically. We had lots of teams whose media didn’t cover the Finals if their team wasn’t in it. … We’re always looking. We’re always examining everything we do to see whether it should be changed.”

On Jeff Van Gundy’s crusade against flopping (he said in April that it ruins the game):

“As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. I wouldn’t impose capital punishment the way he suggests, but … I think we can’t leave it to the officials to police it. They have enough else to worry about and to get the game right. I think what you have to do is — the only policing by the officials is if they believe it’s a flop they don’t call the foul. That’s what they’ve been doing forever. That’s no change. But upon careful review, you’ve got to look and see whether the contact, the incidental, sometimes, contact, justified somebody throwing himself across the court. … The competition committee will decide how, but you inevitably look at it and you say the first time is a warning, the second time is a fine, the third time is a fine. Where do you get to to really stop it? But that’s the kind of thing that I think you could be over-abundant in calling it because our players are so smart and so much want to be on the court that they’ll just stop it.”

Stern and Francesa also discussed how the league might attempt to expand on video replay. Listen to the full interview here.

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