FILE - In this Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo, David Stern, NBA Commissioner, right, and Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner, speak before the start of Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat in Miami. David Stern, who spent 30 years as the NBA’s longest-serving commissioner and oversaw its growth into a global power, has died on New Year’s Day, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. He was 77. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

FILE - In this Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo, David Stern, NBA Commissioner, right, and Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner, speak before the start of Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat in Miami. David Stern, who spent 30 years as the NBA’s longest-serving commissioner and oversaw its growth into a global power, has died on New Year’s Day, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. He was 77. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern dies at 77

He oversaw major expansion for the league

David Stern had basketball as a passion and law as a profession, one he figured he could return to if a job at the NBA didn’t work out.

He never did.

Instead he went to Europe, Asia and plenty of other places around the world, bringing with him a league that was previously an afterthought in the U.S. and turning it into a global powerhouse.

Stern, who spent 30 years as the NBA’s longest-serving commissioner and one of the best in sports history, died Wednesday. He was 77.

“Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today,” Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said. “He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before.”

Stern suffered a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 12 and underwent emergency surgery. The league said he died with his wife, Dianne, and their family at his bedside.

“The entire basketball community is heartbroken,” the National Basketball Players Association said. “David Stern earned and deserved inclusion in our land of giants.”

Stern had been involved with the NBA for nearly two decades before he became its fourth commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. By the time he left his position in 2014 — he wouldn’t say or let league staffers say “retire,” because he never stopped working — a league that fought for a foothold before him had grown to a more than $5 billion a year industry and made NBA basketball perhaps the world’s most popular sport after soccer.

“Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time, but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation,” said Adam Silver, who followed Stern as commissioner. “Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.”

Thriving on good debate in the boardroom and good games in the arena, Stern would say one of his greatest achievements was guiding a league of mostly black players that was plagued by drug problems in the 1970s to popularity with mainstream America.

He had a hand in nearly every initiative to do that, from the drug testing program, to the implementation of the salary cap, to the creation of a dress code.

But for Stern, it was always about “the game,” and his morning often included reading about the previous night’s results in the newspaper — even after technological advances he embraced made reading NBA.com easier than ever.

“The game is what brought us here. It’s always about the game and everything else we do is about making the stage or the presentation of the game even stronger, and the game itself is in the best shape that it’s ever been in,” he said on the eve of the 2009-10 season, calling it “a new golden age for the NBA.”

ALSO READ: NBA, South Park, games company swept up in China censorship fury

One that was largely created by Stern during a three-decade run that turned countless ballplayers into celebrities who were known around the globe by one name: Magic, Michael, Kobe, LeBron, just to name a few.

Stern oversaw the birth of seven new franchises and the creation of the WNBA and NBA Development League, now the G League, providing countless opportunities to pursue careers playing basketball in the United States that previously weren’t available.

Not bad for a guy who once thought his job might be a temporary one.

Stern had been the league’s outside counsel from 1966 to ‘78 and spent two years as the NBA’s general counsel, figuring he could always go back to his legal career if he found things weren’t working out after a couple of years.

Instead, after serving as the NBA’s executive vice-president of business and legal affairs from 1980-84, he replaced Larry O’Brien as commissioner.

Overlooked and ignored only a few years earlier, when it couldn’t even get its championship round on live network TV, the NBA saw its popularity quickly surge thanks to the rebirth of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry behind Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, followed by the entrance of Jordan just a few months after Stern became commissioner.

“There are no words that can really describe the far-reaching impact of Commissioner Stern’s brilliance, vision, fairness and hard work over so many years,” Bird said. “When you think of all that he accomplished worldwide on behalf of thousands of players, so many fans, all of the jobs he created for team and arena employees and all of the people that benefitted from the many layers of growth in the sport and industry that David spearheaded and then passed on to others, there is no doubt Commissioner Stern lifted the NBA to new heights and he will be greatly missed by all of us.”

Under Stern, the NBA would play nearly 150 international games and be televised in more than 200 countries and territories, and in more than 40 languages, and the NBA Finals and All-Star weekend would grow into international spectacles. The 2010 All-Star game drew more than 108,000 fans to Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a record to watch a basketball game.

“It was David Stern being a marketing genius who turned the league around. That’s why our brand is so strong,” said Johnson, who announced he was retiring because of HIV in 1991 but returned the following year at the All-Star Game with Stern’s backing.

“It was David Stern who took this league worldwide.”

He was fiercely protective of his players and referees when he felt they were unfairly criticized, such as when members of the Indiana Pacers brawled with Detroit fans in 2004, or when an FBI investigation in 2007 found that Tim Donaghy had bet on games he officiated, throwing the entire referee operations department into turmoil. With his voice rising and spit flying, Stern would publicly rebuke media outlets, even individual writers, if he felt they had taken cheap shots.

But he was also a relentless negotiator against those same employees in collective bargaining, and his loyalty to his owners and commitment to getting them favourable deals led to his greatest failures, lockouts in 1998 and 2011 that were the only times the NBA lost games to work stoppages. Though he had already passed off the heavy lifting to Silver by the latter one, it was Stern who faced the greatest criticism, as well as the damage to a legacy that had otherwise rarely been tarnished.

“As tough an adversary as he was across the table, he never failed to recognize the value of our players, and had the vision and courage to make them the focus of our league’s marketing efforts — building the NBA into the empire it is today,” the NBPA said.

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri called Stern “transcendant” in a statement released Wednesday.

“It was rare to see a leader with such great vision, who then also executed it. Everyone who plays, works in or watches the NBA owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Stern,” Ujiri said. “The league that we know and love would not exist without his dedication, his hard work, and most especially his vision.

“He was transcendent. He oversaw the expansion of our league to Canada. He knew there was basketball talent around the world and he saw opportunity for players and fans everywhere. He is a great, global giant in sports. We are proud of what he did, and his death pains us. On behalf of our entire organization and all basketball fans across Canada, we send plenty blessings to his family.”

David Joel Stern was born Sept. 22, 1942, in New York, where he grew up a Knicks fan and worked in his fathers’ deli. A graduate of Rutgers University and Columbia Law School, he was dedicated to public service, launching the NBA Cares program in 2005 that donated more than $100 million to charity in five years.

He would begin looking internationally soon after becoming commissioner and the globalization of the game got an enormous boost in 1992, when Jordan, Johnson and Bird played on the U.S. Olympic Dream Team that would bring the sport a new burst of popularity while storming to the gold medal in Barcelona.

Stern capitalized on that by sending NBA teams to play preseason games against other NBA or international clubs, and opened offices in other countries. The league staged regular-season games in Japan in 1991 and devoted significant resources to China, and Stern’s work there would pay off in 2008 when basketball was perhaps the most popular sport in the Beijing Olympics.

Growth slowed near the end of his tenure. The worldwide economic downturn in the late 2000s all but wrecked his longtime hopes of expanding overseas and led to the second lockout, with owners wanting massive changes to the salary structure after losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year on their basketball teams, on top of losses in their personal businesses.

He helped get them, and the league was thriving again by the time he left office. Stern said he felt the time was right, confident that he had groomed a worthy successor in Silver.

Silver, who worked for Stern for 22 years, is praised for his achievements since becoming commissioner. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also worked under Stern at the NBA, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called him a great friend and ally on important issues, and many other executives in and out of sports have said they learned from the way Stern did business.

“Best leader in sports history,” Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said.

Stern stayed busy after leaving the league office, taking trips overseas on the NBA’s behalf, doing public speaking and consulting various companies. He was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Stern and his wife had two sons, Andrew and Eric.

___

Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
104 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

IH is reporting the new numbers since Friday, Nov. 20

USA Today ranked the City of Rossland as it’s top Canadian ski town, and no. 2 in all of North America, while Nelson was ranked no. 10 overall. Photo: Jim Bailey.
Rossland and Nelson rank among top North American ski towns

USA Today ranked two West Kootenay communities among Top 10 Ski Towns in North America

Trail RCMP seized illicit drugs, cash and a weapon following a traffic stop in West Trail on Nov. 18. Photo: Trail RCMP
West Kootenay man, woman face drug charges after traffic stop

Police report that three types of illicit drugs were seized as well as cash and a Taser

With new Provincial Health Orders, area sports teams will suspend all travel including the Trail Smoke Eaters and Trail minor hockey rep teams and some house teams. Photo: Jim Bailey.
New COVID regs suspend junior and minor hockey rep play

All West Kootenay travelling hockey teams have been grounded until Dec. 7

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read