More on my interview with David Stern

If you missed it, I spoke to NBA commissioner David Stern yesterday on his role in the nixed trade last December that would have brought center Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets.

When I asked Stern about his decision to overrule Hornets general manager Dell Demps, he said that he hadn’t ‘overruled’ anybody.  I responded that he had ‘revoked’ the trade.  Stern then remarked that he hadn’t ‘revoked’ the trade, but rather merely had not ‘signed off’.

If the Rockets are to be believed, Stern’s account of the events yesterday was a bald-faced lie.  In this December piece, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that a source with knowledge of the talks stated that Stern had been informed of the negotiations throughout the entire process.  In addition, from that same article:

But according to two individuals with direct knowledge of the talks, Demps had assured Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak throughout the day that Stern and other NBA officials had been given all the details of the deal and had signed off on it.

“He said that David was briefed and that it was a done deal,” one of the individuals with knowledge of the talks said. “He (Demps) said multiple times that he briefed both of his local officials, (Hornets president) Hugh Webber and (Hornets chairman) Jac Sperling, and they and Dell at regular intervals were updating (NBA vice presidents) Stu Jackson and Joel Litvin and that they told David himself throughout the day. Also, Hugh and Jac, who were updating the league office, understood it to be a deal.”

If true, then Stern did in fact, in effect, ‘revoke’ the trade and did not merely ‘not sign off’ pursuant to standard protocol, as was his claim in my interview.  The Rockets thought they had a deal, the Hornets gave assurance that there was authority for Demps to make a deal, and at the twelfth hour, the deal was turned back, by Stern.

Speculation abounds that the trade was rescinded upon pressure from various owners, particularly Dan Gilbert, though these allegations have not been verified.

Stern then went on to tell me:

“What people don’t understand, particularly you, given the question, is that no trade in this league gets made without the owner’s sign-off and I was the designated person by our owners to either have the responsibility or got stuck with the responsibility, and that’s what I did.”

Given his response in explaining protocol, he clearly believes I was assuming he acted as NBA commissioner in killing the deal from the NBA office.  That wasn’t my assumption.  I know he acted as ‘the Hornets.’  The issue is that Stern, while acting as appointed de facto owner of the Hornets, was still wearing the hat of ‘NBA commissioner.’  The conflicts of interest, as I pointed out in the interview, are obvious.

David Stern has cited ‘basketball reasons’ as his cause for killing the deal, hoping to protect against allegations of league-centric motives.  It can be argued that the Hornets perhaps emerged with a better deal.  But no one but Stern himself can know the true motive behind what went down.  A team cannot expect to engage in good faith dealing with the Hornets when the NBA’s interests might have some stake in the deal.  If not congruent with league objectives, Stern can simply put on the hat of Hornets owner and crush any Hornets deal or use the Hornets as a proxy to meet league objectives.  In this case, it was the Rockets who had to pay the price.

Daryl Morey and Les Alexander relied upon that assurance of Dell Demps’ authority in pursuing the Pau Gasol trade.  In the process, before David Stern stepped in and killed the trade, time and contingency plans were lost and Chuck Hayes was sacrificed.

Stern is painting the situation as this: he was appointed by the owners to act as owner of the Hornets.  He hadn’t made any guarantees.  When the deal was brought forward, he didn’t approve it, for the sake of the Hornets.

If all of that is to be believed, I take us back to my original question from the interview: if David Stern was just going to overrule Dell Demps for ‘basketball reasons’, doesn’t that just make Dell Demps unfit to be a general manager?  Stern caught the logic and avoided the path.

UPDATED at 4:58PM on 02/09/12:

More from that December 18th, Feigen piece to which I had cited above:

Stern said in a media conference call last week that he was only “generally informed about the discussions with teams.”

Let’s walk through this.  The Rockets are claiming that Stern was intimately familiar with the talks and had given approval through every step.  Stern says he was only “generally informed” and tells me that he only didn’t sign off on the deal when it was presented.  You’re smart enough to not believe that.

Even if we conceded that the Rockets’ claim was false and that Stern hadn’t granted approval, being “generally informed” is at the least enough to know whether you want to kill a deal.  At the very least, Stern was privy to the basic particulars being discussed.  If you’re the top executive, and the last line of authority, and are “generally informed,” of a deal, you at least know and have given indication to your general manager whether he should proceed.  There’s no way a trade suddenly gets to the point where it’s been submitted for approval to you the next morning and you’re like, “oh wow!  what a total surprise!  I don’t want to do this anymore!  I had no idea this is what the deal was.”  There’s no way it gets to that point.  That could only be the case if you had no knowledge of the talks, but Stern already admitted to having more knowledge than that.  And most suspicious, is the fact that he let it reach such a public stage.  If Stern didn’t like the deal, why didn’t he kill it on his own internally before it reached the 11th hour?  He’s smarter than that and knew there would be backlash.  The more you think this through, the more it leads you to believe that he acted on the outside influence of the other owners in the interests of the NBA.

It’s makes my blood boil that he screwed this franchise and then stood there smugly, scolding me with condescension over the semantics of his machinations.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

in musings
  • Emilio Lopez

    As to your last paragraph Rahat, I was very impressed with the question. You’re doing a wonderful job, and us fans just want answers. It’s all a part of the business.

  • GabrielBarbieri

    not that I want to make a habit out of quoting people that use this term but, ‘the lame-stream media’ seems to be at it, yet again.

    in essence, if such a personality has an issue with your question, i reckon it’s time they found a new career; D.C. lobbyist perhaps?

  • KBoone

    Don’t know why I can’t post on the Forum here but did anyone check our the ESPN Morey story?

    “Daryl Morey regrets Jeremy Lin cut”

    You think?!?! I know we have a PG but how can he screw something like this up?

  • rahathuq

    Garbiel, Emilio – thanks guys, I appreciate the support.

  • rahathuq

    @KBoone why aren’t you able to post in the forum? Is it not letting you register? Send me an email. I worry others are having this problem because you’re the second person to complain about this.

  • KBoone

    @rahathuq @KBoone what’s your e-mail address?

  • KBoone

    @KBoone @rahathuq seems like you have to use livefyre, correct? That keeps popping up and I have to use it to reply.

  • Shawn

    There’s no doubt it was a blatant conflict of interest that Commissioner Stern handled in the shadiest of ways. However, I don’t think you can assume that Owner Stern nixing the trade automatically makes Demps an unfit GM. Obviously, an owner is going to employ a GM who shares his philosophy, but it’s simply inevitable that there will come a point when the two disagree…and when that happens the owner will get his way. This probably happens across the league on a not uncommon basis; we only know about it in this case because of the perverse circumstances. I’d pay good money to learn of any moves Morey brought to the table that Les overruled. Porps for asking the question though. I doubt I would have had the stones to had I been in your position and this is an issue that shouldn’t go away. The NBA must unload the Hornets asap before something happens that mars its integrity beyond repair.

  • KBoone
  • jlcubria

    @RedNinetyFour pathetic that some clown called you out. Mainstream guys don’t have the balls to ask Stern tough questions. Keep at it.

  • Jeby

    Have to admit, it took some brass balls to ask Stern that question. But after what happened before the season, Stern should have expected someone to bring it up the minute he set foot in Houston. Interesting that Jerome Solomon didn’t seem to have a problem with the line of questions, while the on-air personality did. Many people in media are more interested in schmoozing bigwigs than holding them accountable.

  • rahathuq

    yeah, i don’t think it means demps was unfit. i just wanted a clever way to get him to talk without getting technical. but yeah, i dont think it means demps is unfit. the other interesting issue though is that if he knew of the talks, why did he wait until the last minute to kill them? that would seem to imply some outside influence.

  • rahathuq
  • rahathuq

    BTW, I want to clarify that this wasn’t meant as a shot at the mainstream media. I have respect for all of those guys and have made friends within. This was directed towards solely the one specific person who called me out on the interview.

  • Shawn


    Yeah, I thought that might be your logic. It makes for a better question than: “Why did you screw us?”And I agree, I don’t see how there is any other explanation than outside influence. If Owner Stern wants to kill that deal because he thinks it’s a bad basketball move, he does so in the quietest way possible via the guy the league actually appointed to oversee the Hornets (forget who it is). Is Stern arrogant enough to overrule the deal in the brazen way he did? Absolutely. Is he foolish enough to do so without recognizing the scrutiny it would bring down on him and the league? No. Something happened after the trade was made public that forced his hand. He’s certainly an ass but I think he truely cares about the NBA and I don’t see him tarnishing it simply because the Hornets were making what he percieved to be a bad deal.

  • yoyoha

    We lost Jeremy Lin as a result of the cancelled trade as well.

  • rahathuq

    @yoyoha you’re right. dragic would have been gone, there would have been open roster spots, and no need to wait on dalembert etc. lin would have likely still been a rocket. the hting that makes me angriest about this though is that we lost chuck hayes as well.

  • rahathuq

    @Jeby yeah, that’s why i asked the question like that. i knew he’d be prepared to answer anything technical, so i wanted to catch him off-guard with a logical leap

  • rahathuq

    exactly. i adress this in the update.

  • Paul Volcker

    Ultimately, the primary questions will always be:

    (1) Are we better off this season with or without that trade?

    (2) Are we better or worse off in the long run?

    A good argument can be made that Stern’s actions kept up from improving in the future at a faster rate.

    But the truth is we will never know as too much conjecture is involved. This is the stuff of message boards and radio talk shows, but thats the end of it.

  • rahathuq

    I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with this. Yes, all we can do is speculate about the matter and amount of harm, but thats not the issue. That nothing can be done or quantified, doesnt mean the issue isnt an issue. The issue is that this even happened – that the commissioner of the league was in place to make basketball decisions for an NBA team. it should be brought to lightto ensure this never happens again.

  • Jdon76

    I’m not in Houston, so I didn’t hear who it was that called you out…just curious, who was it?

  • rh_rivera

    But Houston got the All-Star Game! An attempt by Stern to placate Les Alexander to make up for this debacle?

  • Dan G

    I think Houston already had gotten the Allstar game during the offseason but it has now been officially announced.

  • TwistedNematic

    @Jdon76 Yea, I’m interested in the direct quote as well..

  • Alituro

    @TwistedNematic @Jdon76 This ^ Thirded..

    Maybe just the publication if you don’t want to drop names?

  • rh_rivera

    @rahathuq Rahat, you are doing the fans a great service by reporting on this. No question some fishy things have gone down with the NBA and its handling of the Hornets. It seems like the mainstream print media outside of Bill Simmons have turned a blind eye to it, which is surprising giving the size of the markets involved (LA and Houston, 2 and 10 respectively). I think the journalist that spoke ill of you pressing the commissioner about his handling of a potential conflict of interest is indicative of the stranglehold the major sports leagues have on the sports media and sports networks. They are in bed with one another, and only scandals that can’t be “swept under the rug” easily are the only ones that get reported. David Stern is a lawyer by practice, so it’s no surprise he is a master at sidestepping questions by focusing on technical minutiae.


    For those of you that don’t see how this is a “big deal” just think about it. Stern is de facto owner of the Hornets. He is also the commissioner of the NBA. As the owner of the Hornets he should always act in the best interests of that franchise. As commissioner his job is protect the economic viability of the league and look out for the owners of all 30 franchises. What’s good for the Hornets isn’t always what’s good for the Cavs or Mavericks or Knicks. So with which power did he veto this trade? As owner of the Hornets? Or as commissioner of the NBA? The answer cannot be both.

  • Matt

    @rahathuq Add the fact that, Demps was on the verge of resigning, but had to be talked out of it according to reports after everything went down. And you see, Stern was acting as commissioner.

    I seriously doubt the Laundry trade got the same level of overview. By all accounts, Demps was originally given authority, to make all moves, subject to clearly erroneous error. And the trade clearly did not meet that standard.

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