David Stern to stand down after 30 years at NBA helm
NBA Commissioner David Stern is set to step down as the league's top boss after 30 years in charge. (REUTERS)
February 1, 2014 will mark the end of an era.
On that date, David Stern, who oversaw the NBA’s ascent to the top of the sporting and marketing landscape, will step down as league commissioner after 30 years on the job.
While many hockey fans hope NHL commish Gary Bettman follows suit, Stern, while reviled by some, is nowhere near as hated as Bettman, who has not been able to accomplish anything close to what his former colleague has with the NBA.
Sure, Stern botched a few things along the way — especially over the past five years, where he too often came across as an overinflated, past-his-prime, dictatorial figure who didn’t do enough to keep a team in Seattle — but that doesn’t erase the gargantuan strides the NBA made under his leadership.
Don’t forget, when Stern took over in 1984, the league was an afterthought, its championship series broadcast on tape delay. The NBA had a drug problem and an image problem.
Under Stern, that all quickly changed. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened without Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, who was drafted four months after Stern’s ascension to the top job, but Stern certainly did his part.
He got the playoffs back on television, he put a proper drug-testing program in place and he marketed his players light years better than the other professional sports leagues, turning the NBA into a heavyweight brand around the globe.
The NBA’s footprint has grown markedly under Stern. Games are televised in 215 countries and there are league offices in 11 cities outside of the United States.
“For the most part it’s been a series of extraordinary experiences and enormous putting together of pieces of a puzzle and it goes on forever,” Stern said.
“And there will always be another piece of the puzzle and so the question is at what point do you decide (to) let someone else do it? That’s the point that I’m at now.”
Stern’s deputy and eventual successor Adam Silver pointed out that record sales figures and television numbers indicate that Stern certainly knew what he was doing.
“You’ll be remembered as the best of all-time,” Silver said.
And despite the missteps, that’s an accurate assessment, not mere pandering.
The league is making copious amounts of cash, as popular as ever and growing moreso every day thanks to expansion into China and India and thanks to its immense presence on the web.
No league does Twitter like the NBA. No league has consistently catered to young people over the years like Stern’s NBA. Creating fans for life and constantly reeling in new ones.
Stern, 70, has hinted at an exit plan for a while now and made it official on Thursday.
“I decided that things are in great shape and there’s an organization in place that will ultimately be led by Adam that is totally prepared to take it to the next level,” Stern said.
Just 23 when he joined the NBA as outside counsel in 1966, Stern went on to become its fourth commissioner.
It is hard to see Silver, or anybody down the line, approaching his level of success or influence.
STERN’S HIGHS AND LOWS
Getting the pros in the Olympics, resulting in the 1992 Dream Team, which led to a worldwide explosion in popularity.
Putting in a successful drug-testing program.
Building the brand to immense prominence through TV, print and eventually, Internet exposure.
First of the big four pro leagues to get a salary cap in place.
Expansion to 30 franchises, almost all quite stable, unlike the NHL.
Unable to keep the Supersonics in Seattle or the Grizzlies in Vancouver.
The Tim Donaghy gambling scandal.
The 1985 lottery scandal, which saw the New York Knicks land Patrick Ewing.
The WNBA has never caught on.
Vetoed a trade while the NBA controlled the New Orleans Hornets that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Four lockouts, some of them ugly.