David Stern: A Look Back At A 30-Year Career
After 30 years as the longest-acting NBA commissioner, David Stern has decided to step down as of February 1, 2014. With deputy commissioner Adam Silver, reportedly a hand-picked selection of Stern himself, set to replace him, Stern will ultimately turn over the reins as one of the most successful commissioners in sports history. Stern’s association with the NBA actually started in 1966, as he was utilized as outside counsel just after graduating from Columbia Law School and passing the New York State bar examination. While every commissioner has their fair share of justifiable criticisms, Stern being no exception, there is no denying the NBA’s unparalleled expansion, globalization and innovation during his tenure.
Consider this, when Stern took office, depending upon where you lived within the United States, the playoffs and Finals were not even guaranteed to be broadcasted live. The NBA, behind the strength of the made-for-TV rivalry of Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics was already booming, but the league simply exploded in worldwide popularity under the watchful eye of Stern.
Of course, it didn’t hurt to have a fairly new round-the-clock sports news channel in ESPN conveniently gaining in popularity and viewership at the same time. Neither did the influx of talented players such as Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Hakeem Olajuwon and this shooting guard out of North Carolina that you may have heard of once or twice before.
Although Jordan was an absolute force as soon as his Nike’s hit (and eventually left) the ground, the combination of the most aggressive marketing strategy in league history and an iconic collection of all-time great talent in the Dream Team (1992 Barcelona Olympics) permitted Stern to open pique the interest of a global sports community.
Additionally, the NBA now has 11 offices in cities outside the United States, is televised in 215 countries around the world in 43 languages, and operates the WNBA and the NBA Developmental League all initiated under Stern’s watch. Without going through the entire history, as 30 years is an awfully long time, here is a list of a few of the significant improvements, changes and controversial events that took place under Stern:
- The building of 28 new arenas league wide, 10 since the start of the 1999 season.
- Seven new teams, including: Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, and Charlotte Bobcats.
- Six teams relocated: Los Angeles Clippers (San Diego), Sacramento Kings (Kansas City), Memphis Grizzlies (Vancouver), New Orleans Pelicans (Charlotte/OKC Hornets), Oklahoma City Thunder (Seattle Supersonics), Brooklyn Nets (New Jersey Nets)
- Institution of the NBA Lottery prior to the 1985 NBA Draft. The Clippers (four), Cavaliers (three), and Magic (three) remain as the only organizations to “win” the Draft Lottery more than twice.
- Banned hand-checking by defenders from the end-line in the backcourt to the offense’s free throw line in 1994. The league has made several additional adjustments/amendments to defensive rules since then, with a majority of them seemingly aimed towards improving flow and pace for the offensive teams in an effort to increase scoring.
- Renamed the NBA Finals trophy (1984) and Finals MVP trophy (2009) to the Larry O’Brien (previous commissioner) and Bill Russell awards, respectively.
- The NBA unveiled a new microfiber composite basketball in 2006. Under extreme pressure from the players due to a “slippery feel”, the league decided to return to the original ball just three months later.
- There were technically four total lockouts under his watch (1995, 1996, 1998-99, and 2011). While the first two didn’t result in the loss of any regular season games, the 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons were shortened by 32 and 16 games.
- Under a great deal of speculation and criticism following the 2004 Pistons/Pacers brawl in Detroit, Stern decided to implement a more strict and professional dress code for the players in an effort to influence/change the public image of the league.
- Former NBA official Tim Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2008 following a guilty plea (and trial) to two charges following and FBI investigation. During the trial, Donaghy’s attorney submitted documents that alleged the NBA’s compliance and even coordination of purposely scheduling specific officials during the postseason in order to influence the outcome of games. Although the accusation was made, no tangible evidence was presented to support such a claim. Stern vehemently disputed the notion of this compliance, and denied any involvement of additional officials. During Donaghy’s prison sentence, he penned his personal memoirs ‘Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked The NBA’ which was published to mixed reviews in 2009.
- In perhaps one of the more shocking moves during his reign, Stern’s 2011 vetoing of the agreed-upon Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers trade went ‘viral’ instantaneously as a result of the every-increasing popularity of social media.
Clearly, no presidency, reign, or commissionership is going to be perfect, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more successful league steward in the history of sports. Regardless of the public’s opinions regarding some of the decisions Stern has made, from a business perspective, Silver will have quite the challenge of attempting to follow in his footsteps.