Slowing youth movement seen as key issue

David Stern saved the NBA once. Some league GMs detail what they think Stern needs to do to save it again.

Updated: January 23, 2004, 5:33 PM ET
By Chad Ford | NBA Insider

  • Stein: Q&A with David Stern
  • Rovell: How he showed NBA the money
  • Smith: Top 10 highs and top 10 lows
  • SportsNation: Grading the Commish

    FRIDAY: The Present and Future
  • Stein: Stern's tasks at hand
  • Ford: Moves GMs want to see
  • Tolbert: The player's perspective
    David Stern already has saved the NBA once. Can he do it again?

    In the 1980s, Stern turned a struggling league with a small fan base, tape-delayed Finals and serious image problem into one of great success stories of the past two decades.

    Stern had help, of course, from guys named Magic, Bird and MJ. Since Michael Jordan & Co. retired, though, Stern has been on his own, and the league has experienced a small swoon. Attendance is down, complaints about the quality of the game are up. The league has been inundated with unknown, unprepared teenagers looking for a quick buck. Scoring is down. Salaries, despite a restrictive cap, are up. You have to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company just to afford four tickets in the lower bowl.

    As Stern begins his third decade as NBA commish, the folks he works for -- the GMs and owners of the 29 NBA teams -- have their own to-do list of things they want Stern to address.

    At issue? The product the NBA puts on the floor. Arenas have never been more sophisticated. Retro jerseys have never been cooler. The league, thanks to ESPN, TNT, ABC and the league's own NBA TV, has never been more accessible. The product has never been better marketed. But what about the game itself? Does it live up to the hype?

    The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires June 30, 2005. The last time the CBA expired, it took a nasty lockout to get the sides to agree on a number of restrictive rules aimed at reining in the league's out-of-control spending. Neither the owners nor the players are completely happy with the result. Can Stern convince the Players Association to tweak the CBA enough to make the actual game more enjoyable?

    Insider talked to several NBA GMs to get their take on what issues should be at the top of Stern's agenda this year. Not surprisingly, curbing the flood of young teenagers into the league is at the forefront of everyone's mind.

    Chad Ford

    ESPN Senior Writer