Stern retires as NBA commissioner after 30 years

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On Feb. 1 David Stern stepped down as NBA commissioner

Sports Editor

The book has officially closed on David Stern’s tenure as commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). As of Feb. 1, the newly retired Stern was officially succeeded by deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who has worked alongside Stern since 2006.

After 30 years at the helm of the NBA, there is no disputing that Stern spearheaded growth and globalization within the organization. But while many are quick to acknowledge his success and influence, one cannot ignore the good fortune and totalitarian antics that Stern’s regime was built on.

At a time in the 1980s when NBA Finals games were broadcast on tape-delay and the popularity of the NBA paled in comparison to Major League Baseball and the National Football League, Stern brought basketball back to the forefront. Since he took over as commissioner in 1984, television revenue has skyrocketed from $30 million to over $1 billion today. Additionally, seven new NBA franchises have been added, as well as global tours and ambassador programs that have built a far-reaching fan base in Asia and Africa.

Stern was also monumental in promoting diversity and equality in basketball. Stern helped launch the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1997 and has facilitated the advancement of women and people of color in front office positions throughout the league.

However, before you place Stern alongside Pete Rozelle in the pantheon of all-time great sports commissioners, take into consideration the lucky timing of his arrival as well as the controversy that has clouded his tenure.

Beginning in 1984, Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would face off in three glamorous NBA Finals series that would captivate the nation and revitalize the popularity of basketball. This time period also saw the entrance of Michael Jordan into the league, as well as the growth of ESPN and SportsCenter on a national scale.

Stern was not the CEO of ESPN, and he certainly did not coach Bird, Magic or Jordan. The culture of basketball and mainstream sports was changing in the mid-1980s, and Stern does not deserve all of the credit for it.

Additionally, in his perpetual battle to increase the popularity of the NBA, Stern has been accused of fixing draft lotteries and playoff series to foster television ratings. Examples of such are the New York Knicks acquiring the first pick in the 1985 NBA Draft, ensuring future star Patrick Ewing would be playing in a major market, and the egregious officiating in the 2002 Western Conference Finals that helped the Los Angeles Lakers slip past the Sacramento Kings and secure a championship three-peat.

Stern has also been widely acknowledged as a bully. From levying countless six-figure fines for insubordination, to asking talk show host Jim Rome if he was “still beating his wife” in 2012, Stern has earned the reputation of a tyrant always looking to assert his dominance.

The legacy of Stern is sure to be debated for years to come, but one thing is certain: Adam Silver’s ascension to commissioner is a refreshing and a welcoming change for the NBA. Having already opted for a light punishment in a disciplinary matter involving the Bulls’ Joakim Noah, Silver is expected to bring fairness and balance to the NBA.