The NBA brass took Memphis by storm Tuesday, taking tours of The Pyramid, Beale Street, the Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Cook Convention Center, St. Jude Research Hospital, Peabody Place, and potential sites for the proposed NBA arena.
Included in the group were NBA Commissioner David Stern, NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik, NBA Executive VP of Legal and Business Affairs Joel Litvin, NBA VP and General Counsel Rick Buchanan, NBA Senior VP Bob Criqui, and Joe Leccese, an NBA attorney with Proskauer Rose, LLP.
Also with the executives were members of the NBA Relocation Committee which included the owner of the Indian Pacers and Chairman of the Board for the NBA, Herb Simon, owner of the L.A. Lakers, Dr. Jerry Buss, Chairman/CEO of the Phoenix Suns, Jerry Colangelo, Chairman of the San Antonio Spurs, Peter Holt, and Co-Chairman and principal owner of the New Jersey Nets, Lewis Katz.
Though there were many meetings between the NBA officials and members of the city, county, and state governments, as well as both Mayors Herenton and Rout, most were handled as private meetings. Late in the day, Stern and Granik held a press conference at the Peabody hotel. However, the exercise proved to be less than informative, with the major players giving a good smile but otherwise keeping their cards close to their vests.
Good feelings were in abundance. From my personal point of view, Stern said, this was very positive. The Pyramid is a fine temporary facility.
In response to which aspects of the visit particularly impressed the commissioner, he said Number one, weve seen the development downtown that has happened in the last couple of years -- the ongoing developments and the planned developments. Weve learned about the investments made in Memphis over the last several years and the increase every year which seems to set a record each time. [Second] is the enthusiasm of various folks that we have met with. I dont know if I can say that I have seen any more of an engaged population.
However, Stern was also quick to point out that the deal is not yet done. We just want to make sure that the critical path is laid out, he said. That whatever can happen prior to the recommendation being made does happen and that we understand exactly what the other benchmarks will be for moving this along.
Stern was able to clarify a couple of points. One major issue concerns the time frame of the deal. According to Stern, the NBA needs to make a decision within the next two weeks in order to accommodate the logistic demands of getting the team and team officials here to Memphis, creating schedules, and continuing ticket sales. We are working in a very compressed time schedule, Stern said. We are trying to be consistent with logic, reason, and documentation and move as fast as we possibly can.
Stern said that a time-consuming public referendum would potentially hurt Memphis NBA bid. If I were a politician, I would say that is what government leaders are supposed to do -- to lead, he said. But Im not so I am going to say that we have a time problem on our hands and we have to decide this or not. The luxury of time is not something we have right now and to some measure, the access to that luxury, I think, presents the special opportunity to Memphis and we are trying to accommodate that opportunity as fast as we can rather than slow it down.
Stern also shed some light into the potential arena locations. We were shown two very good sites, next to Beale and next to Union, Stern said. And they both look to be extraordinary sites with access to downtown. One of the things that tends to happen is that if a site isnt exactly downtown, then downtown moves to the site.
The commissioner or deputy commissioner said little else that has not been previously reported in the past weeks. However, Stern did give the strongest recommendation from the NBA to date, saying I must tell you that in our view, with the exception of trying to tie down as best we can the arena situation, that we are favorably impressed in almost every aspect of whats gone on here. The committee has been reviewing history and statistics that suggest that one-franchise towns have a particular way of skewing far above other communities that have two or three or in some cases four sports franchises. We are also focusing on the context of corporations per citizen and corporations per team and teams per capita. Those come out pretty well for Memphis.
Stern also made special note of the J.R. Pitt Hyde-led pursuit team. I have been in this sport more or less since 1967 and I dont think I have ever seen anything as well organized in any better way than I have seen this most recent effort, Stern said.