My favorite David Stern story happened in Las Vegas, on the corner near the footbridge that takes you from the MGM Grand to the New York-New York without having to physically step on “The Strip” as you cross Las Vegas Boulevard.
This was back in 2007 when the NBA had its All-Star game in Sin City, a grand experiment that produced one of the momentous All-Star Weekends ever — although what it’ll be remembered for is the unruly crowds it drew to Vegas, the violence that prompted both sides to say “never again” and a one-on-one race between Dick Bavetta and Charles Barkley that may or may not have been fixed.
Barkley won the race and the $50,000 prize that went along with it (which was donated to charity), peering at the number on the oversized check and proclaiming “Oh, look, two hands of blackjack.”
Earlier during that week Stern was taking part in a photo opp outside the MGM Grand, and we got to talking about gambling in general. Stern told me his game, back in the day, was Seven-Card Stud — and he was damn good at it, as best as he could recall.
Once you got to know him, you could have a conversation with Stern about anything.
He was “Easy Dave” — a personality few got to see.
Back in the mid-90s when I first got to know him, he was diligent about checking on the welfare of my mother-in-law, who was dying of pancreatic cancer at the time. When my days at ESPN were winding down, he turned the tables on me during a live press conference during the lockout and asked, on camera: “Did you really sue Peter Vecsey for libel?”
“Not the time or the place, David,” I answered.
Yet he persisted.
“Not the time or the place, Dave,” I answered again, temporarily getting him off the subject.
Afterward, I pulled him aside and gave him my explanation (the details of that particular conversation shall remain private), and he nodded approvingly.
You see, Stern understood when someone was left with no choice but to take a principled stand, come what may.