Today is David Stern‘s last as the comissioner of the NBA. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver will take the reins starting next week, but in the mean time, lets take a look back at all that Stern has accomplished during his record 30-year run as the captain of the NBA ship. There aren’t many people that could have done such an amazing job promoting the NBA, and fewer still that could have survived and mollified the occasional hiccups that come while running a professional sports league over the last three decades.
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He might not have been the most likable or most entertaining figure in sports, but what David Stern has done for the NBA and the game of basketball should not be understated. In the 30 years since taking the role of NBA Commissioner from Larry O’Brien, David Stern has decided to finally call it quits and is leaving behind a great legacy while gracefully exiting the game of basketball on good terms.
Under his regime, he has overseen Michael Jordan‘s turn as a worldwide icon, Magic Johnson‘s leadership role in promoting in H.I.V awareness, and Stern is leaving the game when the NBA is a globally recognized sport. After a terrible drug era in the 1970’s, Stern cleaned up the game and instituted the league’s first drug testing policy.
In his first year as commissioner, he brought the salary cap to a place where every team is now guaranteed an equal opportunity to pursue high-profile players. He taught basketball players the business aspect of the game, and gave them the voice to negotiate contracts and become successful not just at home, but abroad in an increasingly global market. We now see players such as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant as superstars, not just in America, but on the other side of the globe and seemingly everywhere in-between.
Stern changed the culture for basketball players around the world, and planted the NBA seed for new international roots in a a predominately African-American league (92 foreign players were on a NBA roster at the start of the season, a new NBA record). He also was a part of creating the Basketball without Borders program that reached four continents: Africa, South America, Europe and Asia. The mission was to promote outreach and teach the game of basketball through education and community programs. Stern made sure the sport would compete in a national/global television market and the game is now one of the most watched sports in the world with over 200 different countries tuning in to catch all the action.
His legacy in the community should be deeply appreciated. He was a Santa Claus figure for young kids, especially the ones from the inner-city, who dreamed of one day walking across the stage of the NBA Draft for the opportunity to shake his hand. The NBA Cares program focuses on a lot of tumultuous inner-city issues like education and health and fitness in the community; it’s been one of the crowning achievements in the legacy David Stern leaves behind.
Stern initiated the NBA Draft Lottery, giving unsuccessful teams the chance to compete for a top draft pick that could turn the fortunes of their franchise around. During his tenure, he expanded the league with new franchises in Miami, Charlotte, Minnesota, Orlando, Vancouver, Memphis, Toronto, Oklahoma City, Charlotte and New Orleans. He was a big promoter of the smaller market NBA teams and after Hurricane Katrina devastated the state of Louisiana, the NBA returned when the Hornets moved to town.
Stern successfully launched leagues such as the WNBA and Developmental League (D-League) under the umbrella support of the NBA. When the WNBA launched in 1996, female ballers had the ability to play in larger American markets and they’re still the only professional female league partnered with the NBA. The D-League gave NBA hopefuls the chance to compete in the United States under the watchful eyes of NBA GM’s and scouts who overlooked their talents, instead of heading overseas. The D-League has now become a great farm system for NBA teams to nurture their prospects rather than lose them to other countries.
When you see all of the NBA players that are now regarded as the best dressed and most stylish athletes in the world, you can thank Stern for that, too. He implemented the NBA’s mandatory dress code in 2005. He also handled severe blights on the NBA record, like the “Malice at the Palace” and the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal, bringing extreme poise to the noise and showed that anything that would damage the league’s image would not be tolerated.
One of Stern’s most controversial moves was creating the NBA age limit, which made NBA hopefuls wait a year after graduating from high school before being allowed to compete at the NBA level. The move provided the NCAA with a chance to include some of the best prospects for at least one year.
There is no commissioner in sports that has had the same impact as Stern did during his tenure at the head of the NBA hierarchy. He saved lives and taught us all that there was life off the court, too. Stern made one of the most beloved professional sports leagues in America a global brand, espousing the game to hundreds of countries and all the major continents. Let’s hope new NBA commissioner Adam Silver can continue Stern’s legacy and keep professional American basketball on the same upward trajectory.
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