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Former NBA Commissioner David Stern leads basketball Hall of Fame class

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Former NBA Commissioner David Stern prefers to look at the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers for a record $2 billion and not the decades of Donald Sterling's "interesting" ownership that came before it.

Speaking on Thursday at a media availability before he is to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Stern said the unprecedented offer from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to buy the troubled franchise "is an exclamation point on the health of the league."

Stern said that the price being paid for the Clippers "is just the next step" in a process that has brought stability to franchises like the New Orleans Hornets, who were seized by the league in 2010 when owner George Shinn couldn't pay his debts. The renamed Pelicans are now ensconced in New Orleans, as are the Bucks in Milwaukee and the Kings in Sacramento, all under new owners.

The Clippers should be next, now that a California probate judge has cleared the way for Shelly Sterling to sell the team she co-owned with her husband to avoid having the franchise seized by the league. While praising new commissioner Adam Silver's handling of the matter, Stern insisted he couldn't have acted under his own tenure because Sterling managed to sidestep definitive legal judgments in two cases where he was accused of racism. (Still, Silver waited just four days, needing no such cover from the legal system, before fining Sterling $2.5 million and banning him for life for racist comments to a girlfriend.)

Asked if he wishes he had done more, Stern said: "There were challenges."

"It was an interesting ownership period," he said. "I'm not going to say anything now that will disturb the waters that will hopefully calm a bit between Adam and Mr. Sterling."

Stern headed a group of 10 Hall of Fame inductees who will be honoured on Friday night by the Springfield shrine. Also in the class of 2014 are former NBA stars Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond and NCAA championship-winning coaches Nolan Richardson of Arkansas and Gary Williams of Maryland.

The women's team from Immaculata College, which won three straight national championships in the 1970s, is also being honoured, along with Lithuania star Sarunas Marciulionis. Former Indiana Pacers coach Bob "Slick" Leonard, the late Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton of the New York Knicks and the late Guy Rodgers of Temple round out the class.

Speaking with a cane at his side because of recent hip-replacement surgery, Stern said he was proud to have helped the league grow during his 30-year tenure from a league that broadcast its championship on tape-delay to one of the most powerful in the world. The NBA he took over had 23 teams and broadcast revenue of about $10 million per year; when he left, the 30-team league was bringing in $900 million in TV revenue alone.

"You've got to give credit where credit is due," Richmond said. "He's one of the guys who propelled our league to another level."

Asked if there was anyone in the class he was especially proud to be honoured with, Mourning pointed across the room at the commissioner and said, "David Stern, without a doubt."

"Twenty-two years ago, he welcomed me into the league," said Mourning, who wore his 2013 Miami Heat championship ring on his right hand. "And now, after 30 years, of his impact on the league ... we're going into the Hall together. So that makes it special."

Richmond said he had only been at the Hall one other time, for the induction of former teammate Chris Mullin in 2011. Richmond was excited just to find a picture of himself, as part of two Olympic teams.

Now he'll be added to the ring of honour on his own.

___

Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/jgolen .

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