Com­mis­sioner Stern pleased to see Rap­tors thriv­ing

Journal Pioneer - - SPORTS - BY JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

David Stern and Rap­tors pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri are in agree­ment - there’s no doubt Toronto has be­come a des­ti­na­tion for NBA play­ers.

And Stern, the league’s com­mis­sioner from 1984 to 2014, said any no­tion the city isn’t one died long ago.

“It has not worn off, it has been ex­ploded off,” Stern said in phone in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press from his New York of­fice this week. “Toronto has the most won­der­ful ar­ray of sports as­sets and a cos­mopoli­tan com­mu­nity and a great build­ing.

“It’s a plea­sure to see that it is a des­ti­na­tion city that play­ers want to go to.”

Ujiri in­ter­jected to an­swer a ques­tion di­rected at Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green - ac­quired in the block­buster DeMar DeRozan trade with the San An­to­nio Spurs - at the Rap­tors’ sea­son-open­ing press con­fer­ence, frus­trated that the nar­ra­tive of Toronto be­ing among the league’s least-de­sir­able out­posts still lingers. “That’s old and we should move past that,” Ujiri said in Septem­ber. “Be­lieve in this city, be­lieve in your­selves.” He then re­peated those sen­ti­ments to a cou­ple dozen re­porters.

“We have to move on,” he added. “To con­tinue to hear about peo­ple not want­ing to come here is ac­tu­ally ir­ri­tat­ing after a while. It is. Come on. Let’s be real. Peo­ple like it here.”

Stern over­saw the NBA’s ex­pan­sion to Canada dur­ing his ten­ure, with both the Rap­tors and Van­cou­ver Griz­zlies join­ing the league ahead of the 1995-96 cam­paign. But while the Rap­tors have flour­ished after some early strug­gles, the Griz­zlies only lasted six sea­sons be­fore mov­ing to Mem­phis in 2001.

“I con­sider (Toronto) a great suc­cess,” Stern said. “Just as I con­sider Van­cou­ver to be one of our fail­ures.”

Speak­ing ahead of Mon­day’s Hockey Hall of Fame in­duc­tion cer­e­mony that will see NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman, who worked un­der Stern with the NBA for more than a decade, the 76-year-old still won­ders what might have been with the Griz­zlies.

“It doesn’t gnaw (at me),” Stern said. “But when I think of it I re­gret that it was never re­ally (given) the at­ten­tion that it de­served, be­cause it’s a beau­ti­ful and ex­tra­or­di­nary city.”

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