It’s pretty common knowledge in the basketball world that Stan Van Gundy and NBA Commissioner David Stern aren’t fond of each other.
It was in March, 2011 when Van Gundy famously said that Stern was “like a lot of leaders we’ve seen in this world lately, [that] don’t really tolerate other people’s opinion or free speech.”
For his part, Stern responded by making cracks at Van Gundy’s “aberrant” behavior.
Things are still white-hot in the world of Stern and Van Gundy, the former coach of the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. Van Gundy pulled no punches when asked about Stern Tuesday during a press conference at Canisius College, where he served as an assistant under Nick Macarchuk 25 years ago.
Van Gundy was headed to a job in the Los Angeles studio of ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” — until Stern reportedly stepped in and nixed the deal in October. Van Gundy, however, has since landed as an analyst with NBC Sports Radio and as a college analyst for the NBC Sports Network (he’s working tonight’s Penn State-La Salle game at the Palestra in Philadelphia).
ESPN issued a statement saying it differed on assignments for Van Gundy. But both he and his brother, Jeff, the former NBA coach who works for ESPN, insist Stern killed the deal.
“The thing that bothered me was the situation was handled poorly and not honestly,” Van Gundy said. “… We knew what happened so ESPN has to protect David Stern so they can’t come out and say what happened. I didn’t like what happened the way people dealt with us and the statement [ESPN] put out at the end was all BS but that’s how they choose to do business. So you move on and I’m really happy with what I’m doing now.”
Van Gundy said last week on NBC that Stern used “bully tactics” to fine the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for sitting four players during a nationally televised game in Miami.
“I’m still unsure what they were fined for,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “Were they fined for sitting guys out in a TNT game? Is it only national TV games you’ll get fined for sitting guys out for? Is it because he sat out four guys? Is three OK? Two? One?
“It’s a very, very hard thing to legislate. I understand his perspective that we owe the fans, and I think we do, to put guys out there when they’re healthy. But every team has sat guys out for whatever reason. A bigger problem he’s never addressed is some of the bad teams tanking games late in the year to get higher picks.”
Van Gundy admitted he sat out players last year in the final game of the season at Memphis to prepare for a playoff opener and never heard from Stern.
“It’s just a can of worms,” he said. “A better way for him to do it would have been to take leadership instead of just coming down with the hammer. Go into the coaches’ meeting at the beginning of every year and talk about our responsiblity to the fans and the league. He hasn’t done that, hasn’t developed that kind of relationship or trust with the coaches.”
Van Gundy was in town to speak at a luncheon in the Hyatt for the Canisius Cage Club and met with the school’s basketball team and other athletic department officials.
He has Western New York roots as a graduate of Brockport State and his father, Bill, is the legendary former coach at Genesee Community College and also coached at Brockport.
“I got into Buffalo last night at 9:30 and I was at the Anchor Bar by 10,” he said. “Living in a city where they deliver wings and not just pizza? It’s hard to beat that.
Van Gundy’s departure from Orlando last spring, of course, was a messy one.
Star Dwight Howard basically said he goes or I go and Van Gundy went. As it turned out, Howard did, too, in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Magic, mostly stripped down from the club Van Gundy led to the 2009 finals against the Lakers, pulled an upset in their first meeting with Howard with a 113-103 win Sunday night in Staples Center.
“We had some tough moments but that wasn’t just last year,” Van Gundy said.
“When you coach somebody, there’s a lot of egos involved and not just the players. Coaches too. You have different opinions and your relationship as far as how much players like the coach goes up and down a lot anyway. That whole thing would have been worked out fine had it been left to (general manager) Otis Smith, myself and Dwight.”
Van Gundy said he has exchanged several texts with Howard and the former Magic star has even agreed to work with him in supporting a movement to increase property taxes in the Orlando area to help a school system that has been decimated by budget cuts.
“Dwight is a good guy and we wouldn’t have won as many games as we did without him,” Van Gundy said. “I have great appreciation for him. He’s a hard working guy. He’s smart, did everything you wanted him to do. You have to judge people on the totality of your relationship with him, not on one or two things.”