NEW YORK — David Stern’s NBA owners gathered one last time, toasting the outgoing commissioner before he leaves after 30 years on the job.
They also changed back one of the earliest changes Stern made.
Leaving with Stern is the NBA Finals format he implemented in his first full year on the job, one that alleviated travel concerns but critics felt also gave an advantage to the lower-seeded team.
Beginning with the 2014 finals, the higher-seeded team will host Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower seed gets Games 3, 4 and 6, following the same format the NBA uses in all other rounds.
The NBA for the previous 29 years has used what’s referred to as the 2-3-2 format, in which the higher seed hosts the first two games, then goes on the road for three straight.
The 2-3-2 format was instituted in 1985 in part to ease the amount of cross-country travel with the Celtics and Lakers frequently meeting for the championship. But some felt it also worked against the team that should have the advantage.
“There certainly was a perception … it was unfair to the team that had the better record, that it was then playing the pivotal Game 5 on the road. So this obviously moves that game back to giving home-court advantage to the team with the better record if it’s a 2-2 series,” Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said.
The unanimous vote to approve the 2-2-1-1-1 format came Wednesday during Stern’s final preseason meeting with his board of governors.
The league’s competition committee had recommended the change last month back to 2-2-1-1-1, which was used in all but one finals from 1957 to 1984.
Stern has often said he was acting on advice — or complaints — about the travel from former Celtics boss Red Auerbach when the finals format was switched. But with commercial flights long since replaced by charters, teams didn’t have the same difficulties now with the number of trips.
Instead, the ones who had the higher seed found it more inconvenient, Stern said, to be on the road for as many as eight days in a row when the opponent hosted the middle three games.
Silver, who will become commissioner after Stern retires Feb. 1, is a proponent of the 2-2-1-1-1 format, though he said Stern and other league executives all thought it was time for the change.
“It reached a crescendo where basketball people thought it was important and the business people stood down and said it was no longer necessary for the convenience of transportation or the media,” Silver said.
Beyond the re-election of Spurs owner Peter Holt as chairman, there was little other business for the owners, who toasted Stern during dinner Tuesday night. Stern said there was a video tribute voiced by Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, along with “some speechifying” and “a series of totally embarrassing photos of me over the last 36 years.”
“I got the opportunity to thank my colleagues at the NBA for their incredible work and saying how pleased I was that the league was in such good hands under those colleagues and Adam’s stewardship,” Stern said.
The owners were also presented with a Stern bobblehead doll. The commissioner said Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert joked that unlike most bobbleheads whose heads nod up and down, Stern’s only moves side to side as if shaking its head no.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” Stern said. “Believe it or not, even including my interaction with the media and the burns that come from being a lightning rod, it’s been a great run, and I’m grateful to the owners for giving me the opportunity.”
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