David Stern, Transformative N.B.A. Commissioner, dies at 77



David Stern, who mastered the transition from a league in danger to a multi-billion dollar industry and the first American sports league to be internationally successful during his 30-year tenure as National Basketball Association commissioner, died in Manhattan on Wednesday. He was 77 years old.

His death was announced in a statement by the N.B.A. Mr. Stern had cerebral hemorrhage on December 12 and underwent emergency surgery.

The fourth commissioner of the N.B.A., who was in office from February 1, 1984 to February 1, 2014, intimidated many with his dominant methods. But he also had a marketing vision and marketing instinct that enabled him to take the league from its darkest time to a new level of prosperity and popularity at home and abroad.

As a result, N.B.A. Stars were the first from North America to become world famous like their football colleagues, with the biggest becoming household names even in the most remote regions of the world.

The N.B.A. was behind both the National Football League and Major League Baseball in both sales and television profile when Mr. Stern took over. When he resigned, he had Pete Rozelle from N.F.L. As the longest-serving commissioner in the history of major North American team sports, he had monitored the league's growth from fear of extinction to $ 5 billion in the late 1970s. Revenue from television rose more than 40 times during this period and exceeded the $ 1 billion threshold.

For the most part, he managed to focus on the biggest names of the N.B.A. to judge – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley – and to understand that they were the ones who gave the sport its worldwide appeal. Mr. Stern's term practically began with the beginning of the Jordan era. the 1984 N.B.A. A draft where Jordan and Barkley were among the marquee players was held shortly after he started his career.

Seven new franchises were introduced during his tenure, including two in Canada in 1995: the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies. The league, led by new stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, reached 30 teams in 2004 with the arrival of the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets). Other Stern innovations included the founding of the N.B.A. 1997 and the Development League of the N.B.A., known as the G League, 2001.

In 1985 Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Chicago Bulls for $ 16 million. In 2014, shortly after Mr. Stern's departure, Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $ 2 billion. As franchise values ​​rose during Mr. Stern's tenure, the salaries of players also increased.

"I think people see all the money in sports and think it was always like this," said Charles Barkley, now a television analyst at Turner Sports, recently on Inside the N.B.A. In 1984, the commissioner's first year, the average salary was $ 250,000. It's almost $ 9 million now. And he is largely responsible for this. "

When Mr. Stern handed over his title to Adam Silver in 2014, the N.B.A. had opened offices in 15 cities outside the United States and signed contracts to distribute games in more than 200 countries in more than 40 languages.

The impact of this international growth was evident on the opening night of this season, when 108 players from 38 countries and territories populated N.B.A. Rosters. It was the sixth season in a row in which the league had at least 100 international players.

Mr. Stern's success was based on a relentless concentration and practical style that he had learned from working on the weekend shifts in his father's delicatessens in Manhattan. Still, on the way, he deserved criticism of what some considered dictatorial. he tended to scream With the owners, he also allegedly worked for N.B.A. Employees, team officials, league partners, reporters, player agents – you name it.

David Joel Stern was born in Manhattan on September 22, 1942 to William and Anna Stern. His father ran Stern's Deli in Chelsea. David grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University in 1963 before attending Columbia Law School.

His affiliation with the N.B.A. began in 1966 when he graduated from a law school from Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, the well-known New York law firm that represented N.B.A.

Cases that Mr. Stern worked on included a groundbreaking antitrust lawsuit against the league filed in 1970 by Oscar Robertson, the guardian of the Hall of Fame. Robertson tried to block a proposed merger with the American Basketball Association and ban the so-called option clause to players tied to their teams. The lawsuit ended in 1976 with an agreement reached by the N.B.A. to expand the American Basketball Association's Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and New York Nets – but only with permission from N.B.A. Players become free agents for the first time.

Mr. Stern grew up as a Knicks fan and attended games in Madison Square Garden with his father. "Although they didn't have a good record, they were my curtsey" he told The Times in 1983.

He played the sport briefly in adulthood and said he was "without most of the cartilage in my right knee when he played basketball with my company's team in the New York Lawyers League."

Professional basketball looked on the downward trend when Mr. Stern entered the N.B.A. 1978 as General Counsel with Commissioner Larry O’Brien. The league faltered – seven N.B.A. The finals from 1979 to 1981 were relegated to CBS, which started at 11:30 p.m. Easter.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times in August 1980, the league estimated that 40 to 75 percent of its players used cocaine, which further harmed their image. In the following 1980/81 season, 16 out of 23 teams were said to have lost money.

Mr. Stern, who was appointed Executive Vice President in November 1980, negotiated a drug test policy in 1983, with which the N.B.A. the first major sports league in North America to introduce one. As soon as he became commissioner, the N.B.A. The aim was to help underprivileged small market companies by setting a salary cap of $ 3.6 million per team for the 1984/85 season (about $ 9 million in today's currency).

These measures helped the N.B.A. The company is regaining stability, benefiting from the revival of the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry in the 1980s – fueled by Bird and Johnson – and Jordan’s spectacular rise to six Chicago Bulls championships in the 1990s ,

In his N.B.A. In the office was a photo of Mr. Stern, who presented Johnson with the title "Most Valuable Player Trophy" at the 1992 All Star game in Orlando, Florida. Just a few months after Johnson announced that he had the virus, he retired as a player (though he would return later) for one season.

Mr. Stern supported Johnson's desire to participate in the game as the leading all-star voter, although he was no longer active in some angles of participation. Johnson's presence turned the league's all-star weekend into a virtual congress for H.I.V. and AIDS education.

"It helped us somehow to consolidate our view that sport as a medium is something that appeals to people," Stern told ESPN in 2014. "We could make changes."

Johnson told sports journalist Jackie MacMullan that I wouldn't be here today without Mr. Stern.

"He gave me back my life," said Johnson.

Mr. Stern has had no shortage of critics and opponents over the years. He may have referred to himself as "Easy Dave" in 1994 when working in the news media, but behind closed doors he was known for his temperament and attitude, which some sometimes felt was tyrannical.

During the 2005/06 season, he was frequently interviewed after introducing dress codes for players before and after games that some considered racist. The Philadelphia 76ers' Star Guard, Allen Iverson, described politics as "the target group of men who dress like me – men who dress in hip-hop".

At the start of the 2006/07 season, Mr. Stern approved the launch of a new microfiber basketball that was so poorly received by players that the N.B.A. abruptly returned to the traditional leather ball on January 1, 2007.

Soon afterwards, Mr. Stern tackled one of the most difficult challenges of his administration when an F.B.I. Research has shown that The referee Tim Donaghy had bet on games in which he had officiated. Mr. Stern continued to be pariah in Seattle as he enabled SuperSonics to move to Oklahoma City after the 2007/08 season.

Some of the punishments that Mr. Stern imposed were considered draconian, particularly the innumerable suspensions due to a notorious November 2004 Detroit-Indiana brawl and Latrell Sprewell's long-standing suspension for suffocating his trainer P.J. Carlesimo followed in 1997.

Given his accomplishments, Stern told Sports Illustrated in 2018 that he appreciated the toughest tasks the most. "I think that Magic announces that he is H.I.V. positive, and Latrell Sprewell decides to choke P. J. Carlesimo, Ron Artest goes to the stands and Donaghy goes for games, ”he said. “These were places where I had to strengthen myself and protect the league, and that's connected to the job. That was no additional stress. That was the job. "

In his last years as a commissioner, negative reviews have been piling up. In 2011, when the New Orleans franchise came under League control after team owner George Shinn could no longer afford to run the club, Mr. Stern declined, the team's general manager, Dell Demps, to allow to go ahead with a three team trade. The trade would have sent the disgruntled all-star guard Chris Paul to the Lakers.

"Basketball reasons" was the first explanation for Mr. Stern's decision – which led to numerous interviews in the following years, in which he was asked to elaborate further.

"I did it because I protected the hornets at the time," Stern told Sports Illustrated in 2018. "No team is selling or trading a future Hall of Famer without the owner signing out, and I was the owner's representative . " that he "didn't explain it great at the time."

Perhaps the hardest criticism that Mr. Stern endured came in the summer of 2011 during an incapacity to work. it was the second work break in N.B.A. History costs the league games in regular season. (The first was in 1998.) HBO commentator Bryant Gumbel essentially blamed the NBA's "infamious egocentric commissioner" for the lockout and compared him to a "modern plantation" supervisor. "

Mr. Gumbel's comments were not well received. Mr. Stern's reputation as an "honest broker" for his largely African-American player pool and a character who "respects the men who play in his league and the community they come from," as the well-known sports sociologist Dr. Harry describes Edwards was well established by then. But Mr. Stern made it clear how much he was still bothered by Mr. Gumbel's statements in June 2017 when he described him as "idiots" in an interview with the Washington Post.

"I've done more for people with color than Bryant Gumbel," he said.

Even after his resignation as Commissioner, Mr. Stern was unable to break free from his workaholic tendencies. He was a consultant to Mr. Silver with the retired title commissioner. He also advised the investment bank PJT Partners, the venture capital firm Greycroft Partners and the technology, media and telecommunications sector of PricewaterhouseCoopers as well as several start-ups for sports technology.

His survivors include his wife Dianne Bock Stern and their two sons Andrew and Eric.

Mr. Silver was praised as Mr. Stern's successor, in part because he used a more collaborative and open-minded style. However, Mr. Stern's influence on the league is still noticeable, especially in his efforts to expand his brand beyond the United States.

When the league announced that Mr. Stern had fallen ill, the Dallas Mavericks – owned by Mark Cuban, a frequent Stern opponent – played the Detroit Pistons in Mexico City.

"He was incredible to me," said Mr. Cuban, "even if he yelled at me."