David Stern’s three decade tenure as NBA Commissioner wasn’t perfect but, by all measurable and most reasonable standards, it was wildly successful.
It’s not like he didn’t have help. Stern had proven his value as an assistant to Larry O’Brien prior to taking over his job in February of 1984, but it’s worth noting that Michael Jordan was drafted four months later. I think MJ had a little something to do with the increased popularity of the NBA over the past few decades. It’s safe to say Stern was lucky.
I’ve always heard though that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I believe that applies to David Stern. He knew what to do with a young star when he got one.
O’Brien was the commissioner during the 1980 NBA Finals. The same Finals that featured Dr. J doing that epic baseline behind the board reverse layup seen every time the league’s most amazing highlights are shown.
It was also the same Finals that had Magic Johnson starting at center in game six after Kareem was injured, playing all five positions throughout the night and leading the Lakers to the championship. It was one of the greatest performances in NBA history and it was broadcast on tape delay. Under O’Briens leadership, the NBA had Bird, Magic and Dr J in the league but the Finals weren’t even shown on live television.
Under Stern, the league introduced seven new teams including our own Charlotte Hornets...twice. There would be no Hornets, Heat, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Magic or Raptors without him.
He not only officially made the league international but he created a global business. As referenced in recent columns, the NBA is huge in places like China and it has resulted in a 30-40 fold increase in revenue under his tenure.
There is a big difference between a 30 and 40 fold increase but it’s like the difference between “more than you can count” and “an astronomical number.” Either way it’s going to be an impressive amount.
David Stern helped to make the Dream Team possible and created the WNBA so the world’s best female players don’t have to go to Europe to find money or fans. I’m not saying he was the best sports commissioner of all time but you can’t have a credible conversation about who was and not bring up his name.
David Stern passed away last week but his legacy lives on.