When many people think about game changers in basketball, names like Kobe, LeBron, Curry, MJ, Bird and Magic. David Stern served as NBA commissioner for 30 years from 1984-2014. He died on New Years Day after suffering a brain hemorrhage in December.
He made a difference in the game both on and off the court and as the days go on, you’ll probably hear and read stories from former players coaches and TV personalities. Before he joined the association, Stern helped negotiate a lawsuit that was filed by Oscar Robinson in the 1970’s against the NBA that assisted in allowing the merger between the NBA and ABA to take place and eventually led to the creation of free agency in the NBA.
When he was named commissioner in 1984, Stern’s NBA product was worth around $185 million and today the league is valued to be worth nearly $5 billion. He took chances and created change. The league grew from 23-30 teams, the WNBA was created with Stern’s help and the G League was created to give players an opportunity to play basketball and potentially spark their basketball journey.
Listening to some of the coverage, there was a common sense that David Stern cared about the league and its players. Charles Barkley told a story about Stern talking to him about something he had done that was detrimental. After telling the hall of famer he had done something wrong, the then commissioner hugged him and said we’ll get through this.
His effect on NBA on TV is unprecedented. Did you know the NBA finals were aired on tape delay at 11:30? Times have changed but the TV revenue is mind-boggling. In the early days the NBA received $10 million a year and now receives around $900 million and the contracts the players sign now illustrated the picture on what TV revenue can do for a league.
When the NBA negotiated CBA’s with the NBPA, Stern wanted to make sure the best deal possible could be brokered. There were four lockouts in Sterns’s tenure (1995, 1996, 1998, and 2011). Only two seasons, 1998 and 2011 resulted in a loss of 16 games each season. There was money lost because of these lockouts but in the long run, the players benefited from moments like the lockouts. In 1984, the average contract for a player was a yearly total of $250 thousand dollars. Obviously, times change but now players can make up to $30 million.
Mr. Stern was voted into the Pro Basketball Hall Of Fame in 2014 joining some of the players he helped in positively changing a game that wasn’t known and wasn’t popular at the start.
Were there negative things that happened in David Stern’s time as commissioner? Definitely. The NBA referees gambling scandal along with moving basketball away from Seattle to Oklahoma City. One item that some basketball fans may forget is when Chris Paul was almost traded to the Lakers from the Hornets. Stern stopped what would have been a league altering trade with a league-owned team in the New Orleans Hornets to a storied franchise. Paul would be traded a short time later to the Clippers but it showed that the commissioner was watching out to protect the integrity of the game.
Commissioners today are polarizing figures. Roger Goodell, Gary Bettman, and even Rob Manfred have made moves that benefit owners and eventually shut down players and fans. Adam Silver is one of the most likable commissioners in the NBA. He’s talked about gambling in arenas on games and even sits with the fans and takes selfies. I’m a basketball fan and watching the games or even going to the games is an event and watching some of the older games in the late 80s and early 90s it looked like a background activity but now games are must watch and an event 82 times a year plus the playoffs. A lot of that is thanks to the 30 years served by David Stern as commissioner and his effect on the game will live strong for the next 30 years and potentially beyond.