Ex-NBA leader David Stern dies

As com­mis­sioner, he ush­ered in league’s mod­ern era.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Ma­honey

NEW YORK — David Stern, the bas­ket­ball-lov­ing lawyer who took the NBA around the world dur­ing 30 years as its long­est-serv­ing com­mis­sioner and over­saw its growth into a global pow­er­house, died Wed­nes­day. He was 77.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.

He 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.

He never did. 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’s pop­u­lar­ity would quickly surge thanks to the re­birth of the Lak­ers-Celtics ri­valry be­hind Magic John­son and Larry Bird, fol­lowed by the en­trance of Michael Jor­dan just a few months af­ter Stern be­came com­mis­sioner.

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.

David Joel Stern was born Sept. 22, 1942, in New York. 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.


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