It’s safe to say that no Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has had a panel of welcome presenters like Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, longtime deputy commissioner Russ Granik, and Bob Lanier. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, though, isn’t the Hall’s typical honoree. In a gracious speech that belies his egotistical reputation, Stern accepted his Hall of Fame induction by highlighting the people and events that made his 30-year run as head of the league so historic.
Stern’s presentation began with a pointedly optimistic video highlighting his run as commissioner that included comments from Russell, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and more. His ensuing words are what we’ll remember much, much more.
Stern opened his speech by noting Russell’s unmatched on- and off- court accomplishments, calling his presence at the 11-time champion’s statue unveiling in Boston one of his favorite moments as commissioner. Stern then extolled the all-encompassing virtues of Johnson, saying he’s “almost moved to tears” every time he sees Magic because of the former notion that HIV would kill the Los Angeles Lakers superstar. The former commissioner was especially effusive in praise of longtime number two Granik, and lauded Bird’s influence as player, executive, and overall competitor. Lanier was the first president of the Player’s Union, and Stern insisted that the league’s crucial war on widespread player drug abuse was the result of Lanier’s singular initiative.
The overarching sentiment of Stern’s moving speech? He was simply lucky to be involved in the NBA for so long. Stern, he said, is a fan first and foremost, and recalled an amusing story of his late mother excitedly calling him to say she met “Dr. Erving.”
“It’s always about the game,” Stern said. “…The reason I’m here is because of thousands of people.”
Stern’s spot in the Hall is well-earned – there’s no debating that. But there’s a reason he became such a divisive figure over the latter half of his tenure. Stern was big-headed and cripplingly confident as commissioner, and exploited players and team workers to placate the wishes of billionaire owners in four separate lockouts. And it goes without saying that Stern was a wild beneficiary of his time as commissioner coinciding with an influx of generational talents like Johnson, Bird, Michael Jordan, and James.
Visible warts and all, though, the NBA wouldn’t be where it is without Stern. And his Hall of Fame speech was a rare, welcome view into the heart of a man most known for the ruthless nature that helped propel the league forward.
(Video via talkhoops’s channel)
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