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In Conversation With ... Gary Bettman

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs TV host Brian Duff hosts an introspective one-on-one interview program with some of hockey's greatest personalities. Past guests have included legendary coach Scotty Bowman, TV personality Don Cherry and super-agent Don Meehan. The following is a partial transcript of In Conversation With ... Gary Bettman. The complete show will air Thursday night at 9 p.m. on Leafs TV.

Brian Duff: When I say it has been almost 10 full years for you as the Commissioner of the National Hockey League, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Bettman: That's a long time. I think about the fact that in some ways it seems like a long period of time and in other ways it seems like snapping your fingers. And I consider myself fortunate every day when I get to come to work because I love what I do, I love the game, and I love all the people associated with the game.

Brian Duff: How easy is it to answer the question of how did you get to where you are today?

Bettman: Well, you know, as in a lot of things in life it's part preparation and work, and it's part serendipity. I was practising law at a law firm in New York and was looking to leave the law firm and do something different at about the same time that David Stern was being promoted at the NBA from general council to the number two position, and I wound up going to the NBA as a young lawyer. They had 25 people in staff, including all the support staff, and I was there for 12 years doing a variety of different things and in that period of time the league grew to about seven to eight hundred employees at their headquarters. And it was around that time - twelve years later - that the NHL was looking for somebody new to run the league. And one thing led to another and I came through the Executive Search process and wound up getting elected by the Board of Governors.
Gary Bettman used to stand in line over night for Cornell University hockey tickets.
Graig Abel Photography

Brian Duff: So what would you describe as your big break then, along the way, because as you say, one thing led to another, but was there one moment, or.......

Bettman: No, you know, you can't ever pinpoint one thing, I was at the law firm, I happened to be out of law school at the law firm that had done a lot of sports work and it happened to be the firm that the NBA's commissioner ultimately came out of. I happened to be ready, willing and interested in making the move to hockey when that opportunity came available, and so it was just a series of things, but in that process you know, I had to work pretty hard and I had to be someone that the Governors of the NHL would be comfortable with.

Brian Duff: How much were you following hockey when you were practising law and in the office, as you say, but in the years leading up to it, I mean, how big a fan were you?

Bettman: I was a big fan - I mean as a kid, growing up in New York where there are major league teams, sometimes multiple major league teams, in each of the four major sports, you pick your favourite team, and you root, and you become a fan. And so, growing up as a kid I followed all four major sports. When I went away to Cornell, which in terms of US University hockey plays on an elite level, that's where the intensity of my interest really bloomed and hockey became my favourite sport. I mean, at Cornell, I was a season ticket holder each of my four years there. In order to get the tickets you had to sleep out in the hockey line for multiple nights - so they had some really hard-core fans, and I was one of them.

Brian Duff: You still follow Cornell?

Bettman: Well, for good reasons. My daughter graduated there two years ago, and my son is now a freshman there, and in fact, I was recently up there.

Tune in Thursday night for the rest of In Conversation With ... Gary Bettman and watch for future episodes of this exclusive Leafs TV programming
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