The Stern Years – 30 years building the NBA


David Stern joined the NBA as general counsel in 1978 and was the executive vice president. Stern replaced Larry O’Brien as NBA commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984, and immediate changes were put into place.  Stern knew that three major issues needed to be addressed. The teams were “too black,” drugs were prevalent in the industry and everyone made too much money. Stern negotiated the league’s first salary cap set at  $3.6 million for each team, which was instated in 1984. The NBA also issued a drug-testing program to improve player image issues.


Stern pushed for growth as television deals were signed in 1984 and 1985 with TBS and CBS. In 1989, a four-year $275 million deal with Turner and a four-year $600 million deal with NBC were put into place. Stern had a global vision for the league and played a major role in the NBA players getting to participate in the Olympics. In 1992, the “Dream Team,” a collection on NBA players captured the gold medal at the Barcelona Games. This was a defining moment in Stern’s career.  David fulfilled another vision of developing a women’s basketball league by creating the WNBA, however the league continues to struggle financially to this day and the future is uncertain.


Despite so many accomplishments and growth, there was a troubling situation brewing. In 1995, the league experienced its first lockout that lasted a little over two months. Another lockout occurred in 1998 brought on by a labor battle that almost caused the league to cancel the 1998-99 season. Thankfully a late deal between Stern and the players union was created and held a 50-game regular season.  David was described as “very tough, being able to push far enough but not too far.”


Stern experienced many more dark hours during his tenure. Michael Jordan’s retirement in 1998, the brawl in 2004 with the Indiana pacers and Detroit Pistons and veteran referee Tim Donaghy admitting passing inside information to gamblers are a few of Stern’s darkest hours. He worked to improve the league’s image by instituting a dress code for players, pushing the minimum age limit for the draft to 19 years old and implementing a Cares program with a $100 million funding to outreach programs including health, family and education projects.


“From the Jordan era to now, he was able to transition the league when things weren’t strong and as family friendly as he liked,” said Tony Ponturo, former vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch. “Each sport goes through a bad period that weakens the brand, but David was always good in managing that process.”


Stern loved to focus on international efforts and led the way in opening 14 international offices and the NBA broadcasts games in more than 215 countries. There were only 10 foreign-born players when Stern became commissioner in 1984 and there team rosters now feature 92 international players. Micky Arison, owner of the Miami Heat says, “The single thing was the globalization of the brand and the game, and he will be remembered for that more than anything else.” The globalization and domestic growth Stern brought to the game brought up franchise values significantly.


Stern’s final period of tenure has not been all fun and games. A 2011 lockout, the fourth under Stern, forced a shortnened 66-game season and brought a 10-year labor deal with a new revenue-sharing system designed to aid low-revenue teams.


Stern prepares to step down Feb. 1, 30 years to the day after beginning his tenure as commissioner. He leaves behind an incredible legacy including adding seven franchises, a 30-fold increase in revenues, expansion in national television exposure dramatically and the launch of the WNBA. Stern leaves the league poised for extensive growth, with enormous increases in franchise values and the impact of spreading the brand internationally.  He showed remarkable leadership in his time as commissioner and his track record puts him in a position to say that he is one of the greatest commissioners in any sport.







Hi, Stranger! Leave Your Comment...

Name (required)
Email (required)