With his wife, Dianne, and their family by his bedside, David Stern passed away on Wednesday. Stern, the NBA commissioner during the most successful period in league history, died as a result of the brain hemorrhage he suffered three weeks ago. He was 77 years old. The entire basketball world took pause to reflect and appreciate everything Stern did in his career as commissioner.
"Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before. His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him -- and I admired him for that. I wouldn't be where I am without him. I offer my deepest sympathies to Dianne and his family."
We forget what happened a year ago, let alone 30 years ago and often take things for granted. Stern's career reminds us not to make those mistakes. It's easy to forget that the success the NBA is having right now was far from guaranteed when David Stern became commissioner in 1984. NBA league revenue in 1984, the year before David Stern became commissioner, was $165 million. His last year as commissioner, 2013, league revenue was $5.5 billion.
Even if you adjust for inflation and point out all sports have grown in valuation in that period, none of it was guaranteed. In the '80s, the NBA had an image issue, Bird and Magic Finals were on tape delay, and fighting on the court was a regular occurrence. In addition to that, drug use was at an all-time high, symbolized by Len Bias passing away in 1986. David Stern managed the league through all that and set up the 90's and the Michael Jordan era.
That beginning provides valuable context to some of his most disputed decisions, such as the dress code. When you take into account Stern's first years as commissioner, and everything he had to deal with at that time, overreacting to hip-hop culture isn't so surprising. Stern will always be remembered for decisive action and not holding back when it came time to defend his actions.
His profound impact on the NBA and the game of basketball is best described not by the words of his supporters and colleagues have for him, but those who he was often arguing with. The NBPA pointed out that even though they went through two lockouts and many discussions, Stern always knew that the NBA was successful because of the players.
"As tough an adversary as he was across the table, he never failed to recognize the value of our players and had the vision and courage to make them the focus of our league's marketing efforts -- building the NBA into the empire it is today. We owe him and we will miss him."
National Basketball Players Association
David Joel Stern was born on Sept. 22, 1942, in New York City. He received his bachelor's degree from Rutgers and his law degree from Columbia. Stern was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014. In his induction speech, Stern summed up his 30 years as commissioner and his philosophy better than we ever could.
"The reason I am here is because of thousands of people over the years who have done so much. You got to love the game, and everything that we do is always about the game."