David Stern ended his stewardship of commissioner of the NBA January 31st. The date was significance because he became commissioner of the league on February 1, 1984 – that’s right, he ruled the NBA with an iron fist for exactly 30 years.
So the question is this: how will Stern be remembered?
First of all, let’s take into account how the NBA was before Stern became commissioner. The NBA was at an all-time low in terms of popularity. It was perceived as a “black league” where half its players were on some type of drug. Hell, I remember when the NBA Finals were tape-delayed (yes, I’m old – 40 years old thank you).
I think it’s safe to say that Stern brought the NBA back from the dead. Let us count the ways:
- Stern also oversaw the creation of the WNBA.
- Stern helped the NBA expand by seven teams (Charlotte Hornets [now New Orleans Pelicans], Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Vancouver Grizzlies [now Memphis], Toronto Raptors, and Charlotte Bobcats [soon to be renamed the Hornets]).
- He helped create the NBDL, the developmental league for the NBA.
- He made the NBA a more global league, expanding into markets in Europe, South America and China.
- The NBA’s annual television revenue around the time Stern took over was less than $30 million; today it’s roughly $1 billion.
- NBA Dress Code.
Of course, Stern had his fair share of controversies:
- There was the relocation of six franchises (Clippers, Kings, Grizzlies, Nets, Hornets and Sonics).
- Four NBA lockouts (1995, 1996, 1998–99, and 2011).
- Stern vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Lamar Odom to the Hornets (now Pelicans), and Pau Gasol to the Rockets for what a spokesman would only say were “basketball reasons”.
- There was that “Malice at the Palace” thing…
Look, it’s obvious that Stern has a mixed legacy. A lot of folks think that Stern is the greatest commissioner in all of professional sports. One prominent writer went as far as to call Stern a “bully“.
I just think that Stern has done more good than bad for the NBA, and has set the league up rather nicely.