The NBA All-Star Game is an annual gathering of some of the most talented people on the planet – where some of the biggest and brightest shine among us.
But so often over the past few years at the All-Star Weekend, the event that weighed the most – and was most expected by insiders – was the annual State of the League address given by long-time journalists an enthusiastic meeting was organized. Time league officer David Stern.
Stern grew up in New Jersey, the son of a Manhattan delicatessen and a New York Knicks fan, and was about two meters tall.
But he commanded space and sport, became one of the greatest basketball stars, and was eventually recognized as perhaps the greatest commissioner in all North American sports.
Stern's speeches on the All-Star Weekend always provided a framework for the future of the league, which he led with great imagination and discipline. The same was true for meetings he held at the NBA final, the NBA draft, or the Summer League.
When Stern spoke, people listened.
And there was a lot to tell.
During his unprecedented 30-year history as leader of the NBA, he led a company that expanded from 23 to 30 teams. That went from the delayed broadcasting of NBA Finals games to the broadcasting of programs worth $ 24 billion. He saw the NBA move from a league that was primarily tracked in the United States and had almost exclusively American players to a global sport with 108 international players from 38 countries to start the 2019-20 season.
His relationship with the NBA began when he was hired by New York law firm Proskauer Rose – the league's external lawyer – after graduating in law in 1966. In its current form, the NBA was unrecognizable as an international cultural and taste power.
"The league was in survival mode most of my beginnings in the NBA," said Wayne Embry, Toronto Raptors' lead basketball consultant, who began working with the NBA in 1958 as a player and continued as a manager from 1972 to 1972 today , "The number of visitors was not great and many owners were not very good."
Stern joined the NBA in 1978 as General Counsel and was promoted to Executive Vice President with a major role in the league area in 1980 before replacing Larry O & # 39; Brien as Commissioner in 1984.
The league has since grown almost exclusively upwards, supported by the arrival of super-start talents like Michael Jordan and a growing platform that helps them transform into crossover icons.
“He was an innovator. He thought ahead. He thought big, ”said Embry. “Marketing was very important to him. The league office brought more people into contact with this concept, and every team did too. He took the product and made it what it is today.
"He was just a great commissioner."
One of his first major political initiatives was to conduct drug tests for players before he took the lead after a series of scandals in the early 1980s tarnished the league's image and helped to develop the first collective agreement, the cap for the total sum contained player salaries, which gives a fragile league economy a certain cost certainty.
Above all, he helped build a partnership between players and owners based on a revenue sharing model that set the standard for other leagues that would eventually follow.
“He learned to bring the players' association and the owners together for a common cause. It was great, ”says Embry. "The owners were very protective [of their revenues] but it cannot be a one-way street. The players play the game."
With its structure, Stern set about making the NBA the most telegraph league and recognized the power of fame – that the immediacy of the NBA game in sports was unprecedented and that a younger audience with a better presentation in the arena could appeal to light and music be a point of differentiation.
For decades, sport has been about selling tickets and opening the doors. Under Star, the NBA was about using the league's stars and the quality of their competition to build brands and create an entertainment option that extends beyond the average sports fan and into Hollywood, music and fashion.
He also recognized early on the potential for growth of the NBA brand outside of the United States. In the mid-1980s, Stern would call himself to negotiate international television deals. When FIBA wanted to open the Olympic Games to US professionals, Stern campaigned for it and ushered in the Dream Team era for the 1992 Barcelona Games. He was the commissioner who oversaw the league's expansion into Canada, opened league offices overseas and made NBA tours an annual event across Europe and Asia.
And when cable, video and digital technology became ubiquitous under Stern's observation, he recognized the advantages of having the league seen in more formats by more eyes. The NBA was a leader in delivering games and highlights to phones and tablets. The league has a massive social media presence because the NBA allowed highlights from their games to be shared from the start.
"David Stern is number 1, the main reason this league is where it is today," said Pat Riley, President of Miami Heat, to USA Today when Stern retired in February 2014 as a major player in any era or in any owner. This has to do with guiding a man.
"During this period, things don't change because they're coincidences. They don't. There is someone at the top who will eliminate the bad and market the good. He was a very energetic, very pragmatic visionary. "
Stern could be charming and funny in public, but was known for being private at times almost tyrannical. He knew what he wanted and was not afraid to compromise. Interview him at a Supreme Council meeting and prepare for a challenge.
"His leadership style was everyone who interviewed him, and I've seen him a few times," said Embry, whose tenure as General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers was from 1986 to 1999 with Stern's rise. "I prefer not to say why because he and I are correcting our differences, but he was quite stubborn in his belief.
"He felt sorry for people too, but if he thought something should go in one direction, he went there and wasn't afraid to tell you about it. I never asked him [personally] but I did asked general questions and I think I've annoyed him a few times, but it was all for the common good of the league. ”
Stern was able to run such a dense ship, in part because it helped make so much money for everyone – players and owners alike. When Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Chicago Bulls in 1985, he paid $ 16 million. The franchise is now valued at $ 2.9 billion, according to Forbes.
When Stern became commissioner in 1984, CBS paid $ 22 million for the league's broadcasting rights. Shortly after Stern retired, the league's new broadcast contract – which included cable and digital rights – was worth $ 2.6 billion a year. LeBron James, the star of the Los Angeles Lakers, will earn $ 36 million and multiples of it this season, while the average NBA salary rose to $ 7.7 million this season in 2019-20 ,
"He knew what the league needed when it needed it and was not afraid to convince the owners of his opinion," said Embry. "He was very adamant in the way he did it – and people didn't always like it – but he won a lot of respect for what he did."
Stern died on January 1, 2020 of a brain hemorrhage. He is survived by his wife and two children.
He moved comfortably and safely among giants and left the greatest traces of all.