T.O. ‘is a des­ti­na­tion city’

For­mer NBA com­mis­sioner David Stern pleased to see Rap­tors thriv­ing, still re­grets Griz­zlies’ fail­ure


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.”

The Griz­zlies’ brief life in Van­cou­ver was plagued a gro­cery list of is­sues, in­clud­ing ter­ri­ble teams, ques­tion­able front-of­fice de­ci­sions and a weak Cana­dian dol­lar.

Stern said it felt at the time like they couldn’t catch a break.

“It was just aw­ful to me,” he con­tin­ued. “I still re­mem­ber grant­ing the ex­pan­sion fran­chise (and) I was so thrilled that we had a fran­chise in Van­cou­ver.

“It was never man­aged to great suc­cess.”

Stern also be­lieves there’s a chance the NBA might one day re­turn to Canada’s west coast.

“I would never say never about any­thing,” he said. “I’m an ob­server, so I’m watch­ing from afar as they build a (US)$700-mil­lion build­ing in Seat­tle.

“Van­cou­ver still has a great build­ing that it had when we were there.”

Stern also touched on the re­cent an­nounce­ments of sports bet­ting part­ner­ships signed by NBA and NHL fol­low­ing the U.S. Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion last spring that per­mits states to al­low gam­bling on games.

And while the rul­ing pre­sented new re­al­i­ties for leagues, Stern said the horses were let out of the barn for him long be­fore May’s rul­ing.

“My view changed when ev­ery­one said that daily fan­tasy (sports) was an ac­cept­able way for com­pa­nies to op­er­ate - which I con­sid­ered to be bet­ting un­der an­other name,” he said. “For me it was game over. You might as well move on.

“Time’s change, at­ti­tude’s change given the com­bi­na­tion of tax dol­lars avail­able and il­le­gal bet­ting that usu­ally goes to or­ga­nized crime. Let’s try it. I’m a changed man.”


Toronto Rap­tors’ Kyle Lowry, left, and Serge Ibaka give each other a high five dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s NBA game against the Sacra­mento Kings in Sacra­mento, Calif.

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