NBA Chief bowled over by IPL, Sachin

Commissioner David Stern admits to being an admirer of the world’s biggest cricket league

By Harsh Kalan
Mumbai 12 April 2013
He is undoubtedly the most powerful man in one of the world’s most popular leagues. But on Tuesday night, NBA commissioner David Stern was all about cricket and the IPL. Between talking to various reporters and dignitaries in the President’s Box at the Wankhede Stadium, the man who has devoted nearly four decades to basketball made sure he followed the Mumbai Indians-Delhi Daredevils rivalry match like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

He loves this game!

Stern, who has been following the IPL since the very beginning, has been doing so more from a league administrator’s point of view. However, he admitted that he’s slowly coming to terms with the various rules of cricket and the Twenty20 format that makes it appealing to billions around the globe.

“I follow the IPL… I followed it from its inception, but not so much as a fan of the sport because I’m still trying to get my head around it, but as a fan of what they were doing. I’m a great admirer of the IPL – the way they shortened the game,” said Stern.

“Some people would say, they gave it noise, they gave it too much entertainment and all the things that people used to say about us. But that’s what the fans love. They want to cheer, they want to be entertained, and that’s what the IPL is doing.”

Despite cricket ruling the roost in India, Stern was also “pleasantly surprised” to learn that local newspapers and websites report on the NBA and that the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant enjoy quite the fan following in the subcontinent.

“I understand that the websites carry our results, and I think that basketball fans are able to access just as they access now. And so we have new ways to reach our fans, particularly in India,” said Stern while appreciating the role new media has played in globalizing the NBA and IPL.

In awe of the Little Master

While Stern is still learning the various intricacies of cricket, he is already in awe of one of the most celebrated and iconic figures in the sport – Sachin Tendulkar.

“You know my favorite cricketer is the most famous Indian cricketer, who is 40 years old and who started out as a boy wonder,” said Stern. “I have not met him yet… I hope to meet him. For me, for somebody to be a 14-year-old wonder and then still be playing 26 years later, is a marvel of the world.”

And therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise when Stern said that his favorite IPL team was MI “because that’s the home of our Indian office and that’s our Indian home team.”

Hoop dreams

Stern, who graduated from Columbia Law School back in 1966, didn’t always harbor dreams of being a sports administrator. However, the longest-serving NBA commissioner in history was only glad to get the opportunity to be a part of a sport he loved.

“You know, I was a lawyer and I went to a firm and they happened to represent the NBA. So, it was not a dream. But once I realised what they did, I figured I would do anything to work on the NBA because I’m a huge basketball fan, and I always was,” said Stern.

“The then commissioner, Larry O’Brien, said to me, ‘Would you like to become General Counsel?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ And I only planned to do it for two years. But here I am, its 36 years later, and I’m still here.”

Stern is currently in India to promote basketball. And as part of NBA’s latest initiative to popularise the sport in the country, he is glad to be associated with the same television network as the IPL.

“The NBA’s plan for India is to get more young Indians in all neighborhoods playing more basketball. We think we have a lot to offer to communities.” He added, “I am struck by the intensity of the fan interest, the wonderment of the sponsors in the IPL. And actually I feel honored to be on Sony Six, which is part of the same network that carries the IPL. I understand the IPL audience could be a 100 times bigger than ours (in India), but we’re coming. We love to see sports succeed – all sports. And the IPL is just a complete success.” 
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