Re­mem­ber­ing Stern’s im­pact

Antelope Valley Press - - Sports - By TIM REYNOLDS

Nick Nurse has quite a few rea­sons to be thank­ful for David Stern. The coach of the NBA cham­pion Toronto Rap­tors first en­coun­tered Stern around 20 years ago. Nurse, who was coach­ing in Lon­don, met Stern — then the NBA com­mis­sioner — through a mu­tual friend and re­mem­bers how fas­ci­nat­ing it was to have con­ver­sa­tions with him. Fast for­ward a few years, and Nurse had an idea to bring a team from what was then called the NBA Devel­op­ment League to his na­tive Iowa.

MI­AMI — Nick Nurse has quite a few rea­sons to be thank­ful for David Stern.

The coach of the NBA cham­pion Toronto Rap­tors first en­coun­tered Stern around 20 years ago. Nurse, who was coach­ing in Lon­don, met Stern — then the NBA com­mis­sioner — through a mu­tual friend and re­mem­bers how fas­ci­nat­ing it was to have con­ver­sa­tions with him. Fast for­ward a few years, and Nurse had an idea to bring a team from what was then called the NBA Devel­op­ment League to his na­tive Iowa.

Stern and the NBA liked the idea. The Iowa team was born. Nurse was its first coach. The rest is his­tory. And Nurse is one of count­less peo­ple re­flect­ing now on Stern’s im­pact, after the man who ran the NBA for 30 years died on Wed­nes­day about three weeks fol­low­ing a brain hem­or­rhage.

“There’s no deny­ing how much he grew the game. He was the leader be­hind all that,” Nurse said. “Ob­vi­ously, lots of im­por­tant peo­ple play im­por­tant roles there, but still, some­body’s got to lead that thing and he was do­ing that at a level that was unseen.”

For all of Stern’s ac­com­plish­ments — and there are many — growth of the game may be the big­gest one of all.

Nurse is the per­fect ex­am­ple. If what is now called the G League wasn’t born, at Stern’s be­hest, then Nurse prob­a­bly wouldn’t be coach­ing the reign­ing cham­pi­ons right now. And if Stern didn’t push to reach out into more mar­kets, in­clud­ing Canada, then the Rap­tors might not even ex­ist.

“This was his baby,” Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said. “He helped grow this thing into what it is to­day. And you’ve got to give him a lot — I wouldn’t say all — but a whole lot of the credit.”

Stern, when he stepped down as com­mis­sioner, said growth of the league was his top achieve­ment.

“My great­est ac­com­plish­ment was in hir­ing the now 1,200 peo­ple — that used to be 24 — that have taken the league to where it is,” he said.

Some of Stern’s other ac­com­plish­ments of note: ALL-STAR WEEK­END Stern turned the NBA’s All-Star Game — which long pre­dated his work with the league — into a week­end fes­ti­val. The slam dunk con­test was added in 1984, the 3-point con­test in 1986, what started as the rookie game ar­rived in 1994 and the skills con­test was born in 2003.

The game it­self, al­ways held on Sun­day night to cap the week­end, is now just a part of the show.

“It was a show­case of what David Stern knew was the back­bone of the NBA — its stars,” Larry Bird, the first 3-point con­test win­ner, said in 2014.

EQUAL­ITY

Bos­ton’s Bill Rus­sell was ar­guably the first black player to achieve su­per­star sta­tus in the NBA, though Stern al­ways wasn’t a fan. He rooted for the Knicks, not the Celtics, and thought Harry Gal­latin was a bet­ter player.

“That’s what fan­ship does,” Stern said.

In the end, Rus­sell might have be­come Stern’s fa­vorite player.

Stern loved Rus­sell. He loved the way he ex­pressed his po­lit­i­cal views. He loved his grouch­i­ness. And when Stern saw the way Rus­sell and Bob Cousy — a star white guard for Bos­ton — played seam­lessly to­gether, he had a re­al­iza­tion.

“Our sport was un­der duress be­cause peo­ple said it was get­ting too black,” Stern said in his Hall of Fame in­duc­tion speech. “I re­mem­bered this guy named Rus­sell who played with this other guy named Cousy. The best bas­ket­ball that I think ever ex­isted in the world and it dawned on me that we had some­thing to teach the world.”

With that, equal­ity — all sorts of it, in­clud­ing racial and gen­der — be­came a pas­sion of

Stern’s. He cham­pi­oned the cre­ation of the WNBA. He was Magic John­son’s big­gest ad­vo­cate when the Lak­ers star an­nounced he had been di­ag­nosed with HIV in 1991. And he sup­ported John­son when he re­turned to the league after his first re­tire­ment, plus pushed for him to be part of the first Olympic “Dream Team” in 1992.

“We were able to change the world,” John­son said. DRAFT LOTTERY

The for­mula and the sys­tem has been tweaked a bit in re­cent years, but Stern also over­saw the league when the draft lottery was added and first used in 1995.

In short, the lottery al­lows non-play­off teams a chance to choose first in the next NBA draft. The NHL sub­se­quently added a lottery of its own.

It didn’t stop NBA teams from tank­ing, de­spite Stern’s hopes oth­er­wise.

“The draft lottery is re­spon­si­ble only for ame­lio­rat­ing the pos­si­ble side ef­fects of hav­ing the same kind of draft that others have,” Stern said. SALARY CAP

Stern in­her­ited a trou­bled league — some teams were in ter­ri­ble fi­nan­cial shape — when he be­came com­mis­sioner in 1984, and at that time adding a salary cap was con­sid­ered risky.

Stern knew it would work. He was right, of course. The first cap was $3.6 mil­lion. The cap now is around $109 mil­lion. What it does, in sim­plest terms, is make the teams and the play­ers part­ners: If one side suc­ceeds fi­nan­cially, so does the other side.

There was la­bor strife on his watch, nu­mer­ous times — but the game has never been on bet­ter fi­nan­cial foot­ing than it is now.

As­so­ci­ated Press

HUGS For­mer Bos­ton Celtics bas­ket­ball player Bill Rus­sell, left, hugs NBA Com­mis­sioner David Stern on Oct. 2, 2013. Stern died on Wed­nes­day. He was 77.

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