On Tuesday in the conference room outside his NBA office in Manhattan, I asked the commissioner whether we'll see a woman playing in his league someday.
"Sure," he said matter-of-factly. "I think that's well within the range of probability."
He went on to explain his reasoning as well as jokingly ask that I seek out other opinions, so that he wouldn't appear to be pushing this most progressive and liberating pursuit down the throats of his players, coaches and executives. But he knows, I know and now you know there is a good chance it's going to happen, simply because the most important man in basketball has hereby declared it could and should happen.
The context is important, because this was not some kind of pet project that he leaked to me. Last month an SI editor asked me to come up with several thoughts on professional basketball for the next decade, and one of my predictions was that a woman will be playing in the NBA. Then I decided to ask Stern about it. Last week I requested a meeting with Stern and I made sure to mention that I would be asking him about the possibility of a woman playing in his league, because I didn't want to catch him off guard. You'll be able to see that he had thought about this, and that he fully realized the impact of what he was saying.
How else was he going to answer such a question? If he'd said no -- that there will be no women playing in the NBA -- then he might have been viewed as criticizing or diminishing the talent of his own WNBA. Therefore, some will respond to Stern's declaration by accusing him of cynically trying to prop up the women's league.
My own impression is that Stern was not seeking to take on the goal of signing a woman to play in the NBA. But now that he has answered the question, I am certain he will embrace the mission.
Stern's entire career demonstrates that his perspective and ambitions eclipse the needs of the WNBA. If a woman were to play in his league -- and play well -- it would have the liberating impact of Jackie Robinson's 1947 breakthrough of baseball's color barrier, but on a much greater scale. This would make news around the world. Thanks to Stern's stubborn success in feeding NBA video to every continent, women almost everywhere would have access to and be personally inspired by the pictures of a woman playing in the league of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. It would be an athletic achievement without precedent.
I asked if we might see a woman playing NBA basketball within a decade.
"I think we might," said Stern. "I don't want to get into all kinds of arguments with players and coaches about the likelihood. But I really think it's a good possibility."