David Stern came to power in the N.B.A. in the early 1980s at a linchpin for professional sports in the United States.
Wars between players and management were in full swing. Major League Baseball and the N.F.L. Everyone had adopted a Scorched Earth strategy to suppress the growing power of players and their unions.
All of this was picked up by a 40-year-old New York lawyer who had a different idea. Stern had arrived in the N.B.A. 1978 after serving as an outside attorney for the league. He ended his time as general counsel and executive vice president and headed the league's business until he became commissioner in 1984. And then everything changed.
Star, The international, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 77, saw the way other leagues managed their players as an attempt to hold back the ocean. In the television age, players became more popular than ever, and in some cases were better known than the games they played and the teams they played for.
Stern looked at the basketball court and saw the world's greatest athletes, a unique, oversized group of players who could fly through the air on the way to winding dunks and throw a large ball through a small tire from 30 feet away. His league had rare talents like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and from 1984 a North Carolina security guard named Michael Jordan. Star the N.B.A. had failed to capitalize on the talents and popularity of his previous stars and decided that all N.B.A. Past and present greats would be his tickets to success.
Instead of trying to hide the emerging power of players – an approach that has cost Baseball and football Hundreds of millions of dollars and huge parts of the season – Stern found out how he could take advantage of the change and capitalize on it.
TV advertising with N.B.A. Players and their acrobatics on the court. After Stern decided that the league should have a licensing and sponsorship division that it somehow lacked before getting on board, he hired a young manager named Rick Welts, who is now President of the Golden State Warriors. They made a dream list of partners – McDonald & # 39; s, Coke, and others – and then traveled around the country to tell the story of what the N.B.A. could be.
"He talked about the athletes, the beauty of the sport, and how we would create a business structure to make it a really good investment," said Welts. "He was fascinating when he came into a room. You couldn't believe him because of the passion. "
Stern significantly expanded NBA Entertainment, the league's manufacturing arm, which he helped launch in 1982 to create highlights and television shows. He signed a contract with the Players Association and a video game maker that gave rise to one of the most popular video games of all time – NBA Jam.
When the International Olympic Committee decided that professional athletes should take part, Stern took his biggest stars and founded the so-called Dream Team. Suddenly N.B.A. Players were the biggest celebrities of the biggest sporting event in the world and sent the league brand to all corners of the world.
Stern would have his struggles with the players, but the worst of those arrived after the N.B.A. had become one of the most successful sports leagues in the world.
Until then, even Stern's opponents admired his work.
"He realized that the game was about players and increased the marketability of these players in a way that had never happened before," said Jeff Kessler, of the Players Association in numerous battles with the league during Stern's tenure represented
"Under David, the league welcomed the fact that the vast majority were young African Americans and helped these players spread their goodwill and incredible charisma, and that had never happened before," said Kessler. "He was also a very worthy opponent and occasional butt pain, but I loved him because of its complexity."
Stern, who grew up modestly long before the area became fashionable, was the son of a delicatessen in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. It was not easy to work for or with or against him. He occasionally publicly abused those who questioned his decisions when they were members of the press. He disguises employees, sometimes in front of representatives of the league's partners.
The style bothered some more than others.
"Sometimes delivery can be difficult, but the desired result is achieved," said Peter Land, director of marketing communications at N.B.A. from 1993 to 1998.
Welts said there were days when he left the office wondering if he could continue to work for Stern. Then his house phone rang at 10 p.m. "And he would be Uncle Dave and he would talk about what we achieved, how great it would be," said Welts. "I would come the next day and be ready to run through a wall for him."
Other commissioners simply managed sports leagues. Stern has distinguished himself as one of the world's leading managers who deserves to be planed at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) and at the Allen & Co. media summits in Sun Valley (Idaho).
If the players behaved in such a way that the league's image was tarnished, he would not hide his anger.
A 1997 fight between Latrell Sprewell, a star of the Warriors, and P.J. Carlesimo, a coach who has a reputation for insulting his players, brought in Sprewell a one-year suspension and termination of his contract. An arbitrator later ordered the suspension to be reduced and allowed Sprewell to get back the $ 17.3 million that his contract guaranteed him. Stern also took strict measures against the players who fought abusive fans towards the end of the fourth quarter of a game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in 2004.
But these steps, which are generally considered to be missteps in retrospect, and Stern's leadership style are largely overlooked today, as he was able to understand where the sports business led years before one of his rivals.
Land recalled that he shared his idea of announcing a new important deal with Coke in the 1990s at a major press conference with video screens. Stern listened and then said to the land to find out how the press conference would be held in a movie theater because the highlight role would look better on a big screen.
"You would go to his office and think you had thought of everything," said Land. "Then he would focus on what you hadn't thought of, and when you heard it, you'd think," Damn it, he's right. "