Did David Stern Put the Kibosh on Stan Van Gundy Joining ESPN's NBA Countdown? [UPDATE]

NBA Commissioner David Stern answers a q
NBA Commissioner David Stern answers a q / LIU JIN/Getty Images

Stan Van Gundy, the former coach of the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, was all set to join ESPN’s NBA Countdown last month. According to sources, Van Gundy and ESPN allegedly had a handshake deal, and the hope was that SVG, along with Bill Simmons, would perhaps inject some life into the struggling NBA show.

And then, according to sources, NBA commissioner David Stern allegedly stepped in and prevented ESPN from hiring Van Gundy, who he has been at odds with for over a year.

I called ESPN and asked about Stern blocking the Van Gundy hire, and the network confirmed Van Gundy was a candidate. A spokesman said, “We had discussions with Stan Van Gundy and were interested in a role for him at ESPN.

Ultimately, we differed on potential assignments and we moved in another direction.”

But remember – ESPN is partners with the NBA. Their last broadcast extension (which includes TNT) in 2007 was for $930 million. So any significant hires are discussed – ESPN stopped short of using the word “cleared” – with the NBA. A spokesman said, “As you would expect, there is a constant two-way communication between media and league partners throughout our industry on various issues.”

Why does Stern not get along with Van Gundy? The two have always had a rocky relationship, mostly stemming from the fact that Stan Van Gundy speaks his mind. As recently as last month, Van Gundy joined his brother, Jeff (ESPN’s lead NBA analyst) on a podcast with Dan LeBatard and Jon Sciambi. Stern was discussed. Did these comments (62-minute mark) put the commish over the edge? When asked about dealing with the media, here’s what SVG said about Stern:

“You’re going to make me see the media every single day, at least once? … You’re going to go through this all year, but if you at any time you step out of line on any of this, then we’re going to slap $35,000 on you. Meanwhile, David Stern, who is a very smart, very calculating guy, has said some things he’s been criticized for that have been totally out of line, and he speaks to the media like 3-4 times a season! [Laughter from LeBatard] It’s absurd what the expectations are – that we’re going to see the media every day and answer questions and never step out of line.

Every year [during offseason meetings] one guy will be brave enough to question that … maybe we don’t have to give the media total accessibility? And David Stern will beat them down in front of everybody. It’s totally unfair, but that’s the way it is in our league.

The podcast went live on September 10th – which was right around the time that Stan Van Gundy was linked to NBA Countdown.

And who could forget Stan Van Gundy’s memorable sparring with Stern in 2011? While defending Dwight Howard and criticizing officials, Van Gundy said this:

“This is the system David Stern and his minions like. So that’s the system you have. … I certainly can’t have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we’ve seen in this world lately, don’t really tolerate other people’s opinion or free speech or anything. So I’m not really allowed to have an opinion. So it’s up to him.

“He decides and he likes the system he has.”

Stern went on Colin Cowherd’s show and fired back:

“I would render a guess … that we won’t be hearing from him for the rest of the season.”

Since Monday, I’ve been trying to reach Stern. NBA reps said he’s traveling internationally – he’s always on a plane, it seems – and the only response about Van Gundy came from NBA spokesman Mike Bass: “It was ESPN and ESPN alone that made any decisions about Stan Van Gundy.”

I couldn’t reach Stan Van Gundy for comment.

[UPDATE:Here’s audio from Van Gundy on Dan LeBatard’s radio show in late September. LeBatard debuted a new segment, “Who is the biggest dick in sports?” and Stan Van Gundy’s answer was, “I’d say David Stern” followed by a huge pause “well, just because he’s David Stern,” before settling on the owner of the Marlins.]

Related: Will Bill Simmons, Stan Van Gundy, Magic Johnson and Mike Wilbon Work on NBA Countdown?

Related: Bill Simmons Being “Strongly Considered” as Addition to ESPN’s NBA Countdown

Related: Jim Rome Asked David Stern About the NBA Lottery Being Fixed and Stern Responded, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” [UPDATE: Audio]