“A couple of things that stand out to me is that David has been, in my estimation, the type of commissioner that has set the standard not only for the NBA but for all of the sports,” said Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the outgoing chairman of the Board of Governors. “We have done so many wonderful things in the organization. The marketing, leadership, the brand recognition, going international way before our times, and David has led that.”
Taylor said there’s been a “40-fold” increase in revenues from the league’s national TV contract, and that the average player salary will have had grown from $250,000 when Stern took over to $5 million by the end of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Stern was the league’s outside counsel from 1966-78, then its general counsel before becoming executive vice president of business and legal affairs from 1980-84. He replaced Larry O’Brien to become the league’s fourth commissioner, getting a boost in taking the game mainstream with the popularity of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and soon Michael Jordan. The league began marketing its stars, and Stern found the desire for them was greatest in some far-away lands.
The real explosion came in 1992, when those three headed the Dream Team that led the U.S. to the Olympic basketball gold medal while winning fans around the world. The NBA has gone on to play games in 17 countries, staging 114 international games.
Stern just recently returned from China, Germany and Italy, and plans another overseas trip next season, and will remain an adviser to the league in retirement on international matters.
“We just think that his leadership will be important to our future,” Taylor said.
It’s meant everything to the league’s past.
The league has reported huge increases in ticket and merchandise sales, and TV ratings are at an all-time high. Last season’s lockout, the second time the league lost games to a work stoppage, hardly made a dent in the league’s business or in fans’ interest.
But even for Stern, business has always taken a back seat to basketball. He’s sought changes to improve play, such as the elimination of isolation play that bored him, to implementing penalties that go into effect this season for flopping.
“For the most part it’s been a series of extraordinary experiences and enormous putting together of pieces of a puzzle and it goes on forever,” Stern said. “And there will always be another piece of the puzzle and so the question is at what point do you decide that, let someone else do it? That’s the point that I’m at now.”
Taylor and Spurs owner Peter Holt, who is replacing him as board chairman, said the owners will work to have a contract with Silver by April. Silver came to the NBA 20 years ago and served a variety of positions before becoming the deputy commissioner in 2006. He was the lead negotiator during the lockout and Stern has relied more heavily on him in recent years, even turning to Silver to answer questions on tougher topics.
Stern said he wouldn’t leave until he knew there was a successor ready, and he has repeatedly said Silver is ready for that role.Stern said he would always remain available to take a call and help the league.
“Life is a journey and it’s been a spectacular journey,” Stern said. “Each step along the way there are things that you have to do, things that you maybe wish you hadn’t done. But I don’t keep that list, and so I’m totally pleased and I’m particularly pleased with the transition of which we’re now embarking.”
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