Newspaper article The Canadian Press

David Stern on Gary Bettman's Hall of Fame Induction: 'I'm like a Proud Uncle'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

David Stern on Gary Bettman's Hall of Fame Induction: 'I'm like a Proud Uncle'

Article excerpt

Stern 'proud' of Bettman ahead of induction

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TORONTO - David Stern tries to connect with Gary Bettman by phone about once a week. Even he has a tough time keeping track of the NHL commissioner's schedule.

"I called him one day and he was in Helsinki," Stern said. "The next day he was someplace else.

"He's a tireless worker."

If the two men happen to speak Monday, Bettman will be in Toronto getting ready for his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I'm like a proud uncle," Stern, commissioner of the NBA from 1984 to 2014, said in a recent phone interview with The Canadian Press. "It's wonderful, he deserves it."

Stern, who had practised law with Bettman earlier in their careers, joked that he kidnapped his future protege on the George Washington Bridge in New York in 1981 so he could join him in the NBA's league office.

"He was a young, energetic, hard-working, very smart lawyer," Stern recalled of hiring Bettman. "He didn't consider there to be any limitations of what he could learn or what he could do.

"You could only be constructive with Gary because you could never say anything about his work ethic or anything that he did. He always took on too much."

Bettman tackled collective bargaining, NBA Entertainment and the sport's globalization for Stern -- all reasons the NHL eventually came calling when it was looking for a new frontman in 1993.

"I was proud when he was selected as commissioner," said Stern, 76. "I was pained when people take all of these shots at him.

"I'm pained, but not worried, because he has a way of rebounding."

Those shots, however, haven't really stopped coming during Bettman's 25-year tenure.

The NHL has grown from 24 to 31 teams under his watch, with annual revenue ballooning to around US$5 billion. The Vegas Golden Knights paid $500 million to enter the league last season and a 32nd franchise that looks set to be awarded to Seattle as early as next month will pony up $650 million.

But Bettman has also overseen three lockouts, including one that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, with another work stoppage potentially on the way in either 2020 or 2022. Olympic participation and how the league has dealt with concussions have been among some of the other thorny issues.

Being an American and a so-called "basketball guy," his hiring was heavily criticized in Canada -- even more so after the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets relocated to U.S. cities in the mid-1990s -- but Stern was confident from the start the move would be a success.

"No one quite understood his skillset and what he was going to bring," Stern said. …

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