2020 started off rough especially for basketball lovers. One of the greatest commissioners in sports history, David Stern passed away after suffering a brain hemorrhage at the age of 77. On December 12th he underwent an emergency surgery and passed three weeks later. His son Eric later revealed that his father had not been conscience since and was on a breathing tube. Over a 30 year tenure as commissioner, he helped the NBA reach a global level, implemented dress codes, and helped reshape a league that was in dire need of help.
Prior to Stern coming into the league in 1984, professional players were not playing in the Olympics. It was originally designed for amateurs but Stern realized other countries were using professional players so he took action. In 1988 after the US settled for bronze, Stern changed the game forever. For the first time in Olympic history, NBA players had the opportunity to represent their country in 1992. The team that was assembled, the legendary Dream Team with players such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley just to name a few. The Dream Team won games by an average of 44 points in Barcelona. Since, team USA has won all but one Olympic Gold. In 2004, the USA infamously lost in the Athens and took home the bronze medal.
When Stern came into the NBA, its ratings were dropping tremendously but the commissioner had bigger plans.In his first year, he placed NBA highlights on Agertian television. Then, he started to send NBA footage on VHS tapes to China. By the mid-to late 80’s, the NBA had a growing global fan base. In the 90’s, he brought two franchises in Canada, the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. Today, the NBA now airs in 215 countries and in 50 languages. Because of Stern’s hard work globally, the league is able to see the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luca Doncic, Joel Embid and future NBA hall of famer Dirk Nowitzki. The 2019-2020 season marked the sixth straight year that at least 100 International players appeared on opening night rosters.
The league expanded greatly under Commissioner Sterns leadership. He brought seven new franchises, the Hornet, Timberwolves, Heat, Magic, Grizzles Raptors, and Bobcats. By 2004, he brought the total of teams to 30.
Many players were coming in the league straight from high school. From the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. Each one of these players changed the face of the game but there are also a few players that came straight out of school that absolutely did not live up to the hype such as Eddy Curry, Robert Swift, Sebstian Telfair and Kwame Brown. Beginning with the 2006 NBA draft, players could not be drafted right out of high school, had to play at least one year of college or played overseas, and had to be at least 19 years old. Many players used this rule to their advantage such as Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose.
Speaking of the NBA draft, prior to 1985, there was a coin toss between the worst team and the second worst team in the league to figure out who would have the first pick in the NBA draft. There was speculation that many teams were tanking their season so they could get the number one pick including the Houston Rockets. They made sure to stamp Hakeem Olajuwon at number one in 1984. The Knicks won the first lottery and obtained the rights to the greatest Knick of All-Time, Patrick Ewing from Georgetown. And of course, the Draft lottery is now one of the most anticipated moments of the NBA.
At the beginning of the 1991-1992 NBA season, Magic Johnson announced that he had the HIV virus and was retiring from the NBA. The announcement took the world by storm because there were many misconceptions about the disease. Many thought only gay men contracted the disease and called into question about his sexuality although he was recently married and had a baby on the way, some thought you could get the disease just by shaking someone’s hands or letting their sweat touch you. Many players including Utah Jazz great Karl Malone did not want to share the court with him. David Stern didn’t care. That very same season, fans voted him as an All-Star and Stern let him play. Not only did he let Magic play, he also invited him to play in 1992 Olympics.
Most women played overseas to make money after college to have the opportunity to play professionally. That all changed in April 1996. David Stern partnered with the WNBA’s first commissioner, Val Ackerman and created the WNBA.There were some professional leagues but none had the backing of the NBA. The WNBA logo even mirrored the NBA logo. With the commissioner's support and the NBA board of directors, the league was underway. Although its first season wasn’t prosperous, in 1996 they women took home gold during the Olympics.
David Stern wanted everyone to succeed and have a chance. He implemented the National Development League also known as the D-League (in 2018 they changed the name to the G-league). The D-league gave players the opportunity to play and develop their game and ultimately get picked up by NBA teams. Originally, the D-league started out with just eight teams then it moved up to 15 teams. Today, there are 28 teams ALL affiliated with NBA teams. The D-league has seen success stories such as NBA champion Pascal Siakam and one of the biggest sensations of the decade, Jeremy Lin also known as Linsanity.
David Stern was an innovator and created so many new business ventures for the NBA. He faced many challenges along the way such as the NBA lockout more than once but like always he handled it with grace. He put the NBA games on TV, Christmas Day games became one of the most watched sporting events. Many players from the past and present have paid tribute to the commoniser and it was well deserved. Current commissioner Adam SIlver spoke very highly of his former boss “David had extraordinary talents, but with him it was always about the fundamentals — preparation, attention to detail, and hard work. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. “He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world,” Silver continued. “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.” LeBron James also shared memories with the commissioner ““It was a dream come true for me to step up on that stage and shake David’s hand, knowing where I come from. … I don’t know if I even heard my name being called. I think someone had to push me up there. I was so ecstatic,” LeBron James said. “I know, for sure, I remember that handshake, giving me that hat, and that handshake. I’ll never ever forget that.” He continued “He told me he wanted to wear my suit one day,” James said with a smile. “I won’t forget that. He told me in the back, ‘You think I can borrow that suit one day?’” NBA Hall of Famer and Chicago Bull great also weighed in, “Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before. His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him — and I admired him for that.” Another Hall of Famer and one of the greatest passers of All-Time, Magic Johnson recalled the moment that shock up the league, “David Stern was such a history maker. When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand. When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world.”
David Stern is survived by his wife Dianne and his two sons. Sending them lots of love and prayers during this difficult time. Rest in Power Commissioner.