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All About The Late David Stern: The Greatest Commissioner In The History of Pro Sports

The first few months of 2020 were marked by unprecedented tragedy in the NBA, starting less than one month into the calendar. This doesn’t even count the global shutdown (including the NBA) that was put in place in late February/early March. For NBA fans, it’s been a trying time, there’s no doubt about that…

Photo: Cody Mulcahy

A Rough Start To The Year

At the end of January, it seemed like the sports world came to an emotional halt, with news spreading of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. This legend impacted nearly everyone who’s ever picked up a basketball, as he was front and center on the NBA marquee for so many years.

Just a few weeks prior to the news of Kobe’s passing, on January 1st 2020, the man who turned the league into what it is today, David Stern, lost his life to a brain hemorrhage that he suffered in the middle of December, 2019.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons / Brian Ellner

The Greatest Commissioner

From 1984 until he stepped down in 2014, Stern was seen by many as the greatest commissioner in pro sports. While there are a number of owners, coaches, players, and fans who may not have agreed with all of his rulings, nobody can argue the fact that Stern left the NBA a far better league than the one he came into.

The NBA was a professional league that had a significant amount of substance abuse issues, was on a time-delay, and unless you were an obsessive basketball fan, had no real global exposure. David Stern’s fingerprints were all over the growth of the league, and the sport.

While players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James (among many) would become names that people associate with the sport, without Stern’s leadership there most likely wouldn’t have been be a platform for them to build their names on as successfully as they did.

Photo: Herrera

Controversial Decisions

Although Stern’s tenure wasn’t without its controversies – including a dress code, franchise relocations, four lockouts, and fining Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban nearly $2 million – the league is in a far better place than it was when he took over in the mid 1980s.

Stern’s decision to implement the draft lottery saved the league from a slap in the face, as teams used to outright tank games near the end of the season in order to secure the top draft pick. Even though the draft wasn’t an exact science, and teams may have still found loopholes, it would – in theory, at least – help teams that deserved a potentially elite young talent.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons / Keith Allison

The Dream Team

Another one of Stern’s greatest acts as NBA Commissioner was convincing team owners that the benefits of sending a “Dream Team” to the Olympics would include a huge global growth for the game of basketball.

That awareness would eventually help the league to expand across the borders into both Vancouver and Toronto. Stern’s vision of broadening the game helped bring international talent like Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, the Gasol brothers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo to the league.

Photo: Eric Kilby

Additional Impact

During his three decades as commissioner, Stern’s impact on the game wasn’t limited to just the NBA itself. One of the driving forces behind the launch of the WNBA in 1997, Stern helped legitimize women’s professional basketball in the United States.

There’d long been a demand for an NBA “minor league,” and Stern helped with the creation and development of what’s now known as the NBA G-League.

After officially taking over as commissioner on February 1, 2014, Adam Silver continued to push the NBA to new heights. His predecessor, David Stern, was rightfully enshrined in both the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2014, for his herculean efforts to make the game the global success that it is today.