David Stern's first Finals as commissioner was the 1984 series between the Lakers and Celtics. The Celtics were up 3-2, when Stern boarded an elevator with a group of men wearing number 33 Celtics jerseys. "
"So where are you from?" Stern asked.
"Indiana. We're all friends of Larry," one of them answered.
"Jeez, tell Larry to take it easy on us," Stern responded. "We need the series to go 7 games."
When the Game was Ours, Jackie MacMullan, P.108
I've read a lot of Celtics history. But I somehow missed this one. Sure, I was aware of the David Stern anti-Celtic conspiracy theorists out there. Yet despite being a charter member of the Kevin Garnett Grassy Knoll Network, I've never believed that Stern cost us a chance at a championship (even the NBA's ruling against giving the Celtics additional cap room following the death of Reggie Lewis was a decision made by the league's Board of Governors, not David Stern). But after reading this, it does make you wonder about Stern's evenhandedness.
The most interesting part of the quote is the use of the word "us." Stern defenders would argue that he meant the NBA. That would be a plausible interpretation. Yet Bird wasn't playing against the NBA. He was playing against the Lakers, and the fact that Stern took a position in favor of one team winning game 6 and the other team losing makes the choice of the word "us" all the more cloudy. Why not say "take it easy on the Lakers"? Stern was clearly aligning himself and the NBA with the purple.
At the time, Bird called out Stern for his lack of judgment. Thirty years later, however, Bird regretted being critical of Stern, saying he criticized Stern in the heat of the moment when the Celtics were battling it out for an NBA championship. But what's to regret? You have the league's highest authority publicly coming out in favor of one team winning a game that could make or break the other team's title aspirations.
It was wrong then, and it is just as wrong today in hindsight.