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Column: The legacy of Stern

By Mike Peng
On February 6, 2014

Love him or hate him, former NBA commissioner David Stern was a force to be reckoned with in the league over the last 30 years.
Since taking over the position in 1984, Stern has been the straw that stirred the drink that is the NBA and made the league one of the most popular organizations not only in the country, but the world.
Sure, quite a few controversies surrounded Stern throughout the years. From draft lottery conspiracy theories and ratifying a dress code, to collective bargaining agreement disputes and nixing the Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade, Stern has drawn his fair share of criticisms. However, people always tend to focus more on the negatives, while all the good that Stern has done for the league gets lost among the shuffles, and what he did was unrivaled by any other in his field.
At 41 years old, Stern took over the league with just 23 teams and the popularity in free-fall. He immediately introduced the NBA, or rather reintroduced the NBA Slam Dunk Contest that originated from the ABA in 1976. From that point on, with the help of stars like Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and others, the league's fan base slowly but surely began to grow.
In late 1991, when Johnson announced his retirement due to his contraction of HIV, Stern made the decision to allow Johnson to compete in the 1992 All-Star Game, and with one hug at the end of the contest to congratulate Johnson on the MVP nod of the game, Stern calmed the hysteria that surrounded the league at the time.
In 1996, Stern and the NBA Board of Governors also approved the WNBA and helped that league to establish itself through the success of the NBA.
The feather in Stern's cap, however, would have to be the globalization of the NBA. By bringing in international players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Yao Ming, Stern put the league on the world's map. As a result, the NBA has a total of 92 players from outside the U.S. on its roster as of opening day of the 2013-14 season.
Of course, all these successes would not mean much unless Stern brought in the money for the league to survive and strive.
According to Forbes, the 23 teams in the league in 1984 had a combined value of $400 million, while the average salary for an NBA player stood at $290,000.
Since then, seven new teams joined the league while six franchises were relocated, and the combined value of the current 30 teams now stand at $19 billion with the averaging player salary spiking to $5.7 million. All together, the league revenue has also increased from $165 million in 1984 to $5.5 billion in 2013.
The fans can criticize and boo Stern all they want, and as far as draft nights can tell, he loves it, but there is a reason why Stern was the longest-tenured commissioner in any American professional sports history. As a child, Stern often attended New York Knicks games at the old Madison Square Garden. He's a fan of the game and he still loves it to this day. It's that kind of passion that allowed him to make the NBA into what it is today.
At the age of 71, Stern retired as the commissioner on Feb. 1, exactly 30 years since he started the job. He passed the torch to Adam Silver, who joined the league as Stern's assistant in 1992 and had been the deputy commissioner since 2006.
Silver was unanimously selected by the NBA Board of Governors to succeed Stern, but Stern sure left behind one tough act to follow.
 


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