NEW YORK (AP) - David Stern took the NBA around the globe in nearly three decades as commissioner, turning what was a second-rate league into a projected $5-billion-a-year industry.
Now, confident a worthy successor is in place with a labor deal that will ensure the game’s continued growth, Stern is ready to stay home.
Stern will retire as commissioner Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years to the day after taking charge of the league, ending one of the most successful and impactful careers in sports history. He will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.
“I don’t know what else to say other than to recite what I told the owners yesterday in executive session,” Stern said Thursday during a press conference after the board of governors meetings. “I told them that it’s been a great run, it will continue for another 15 months, that the league is in, I think, terrific condition.”
Stern is the one who got it there, turning a league with little-to-no TV presence _ the NBA Finals were on tape delay in the early 1980s _ into one that’s televised live in 215 countries and is pro sports’ leader in digital and social media.
He has been perhaps the model sports commissioner.
Name an important policy in the NBA _ drug testing, salary cap, even a dress code _ and Stern had a hand in it. A lawyer by trade, he was a fearless negotiator against players and referees, but also their biggest defender any time he felt they were unfairly criticized.
“For all the things you’ve done for the NBA and for sports generally, I think there’s no doubt that you’ll be remembered as the best of all-time as commissioners go and you’ve set the standard, I think not even just for sports league commissioners, but for CEOs in any industry,” Silver told Stern sitting to his left on a podium.
Stern told owners of his plans during their two days of meetings, and the board unanimously decided Silver would be his successor. Owners will begin negotiations with the 50-year-old Silver in hopes of having a contract completed by their next meeting in April.
Stern, who turned 70 last month, became commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. He has been the NBA’s longest-serving commissioner, establishing the league’s brand around the world, presiding over team expansion and overseeing the establishment of the WNBA and the NBA Development League.
“There is no debate that David Stern has earned his spot in the pantheon of sports commissioners. Deservedly, his name and reputation will always be synonymous with the phenomenal growth and success of the NBA over the last three decades,” union executive director Billy Hunter said in a statement. “His absence will surely be felt by anyone connected to the NBA and the sport of basketball, although clearly the league will be left in very capable hands with the appointment of Adam Silver as the next commissioner.”
Seven franchises have been added under Stern and the league has seen a 30-fold increase in revenues. Stern insisted the NBA have a presence on social media, and the league and players have more than 270 million likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter.
Stern said he decided on his plans about six months ago, having guided the league through a lockout that ended last December. He didn’t want to leave until the labor deal was completed or until he was confident there was a successor in place, and both are done. Silver has worked at the NBA for 20 years and been the league’s No. 2 since 2006, and both Stern and league owners praise his abilities.
“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.”