The last time I saw David Stern was the day after the biggest night of my professional life.
It was a Friday in September in Springfield, Massachusetts, minutes before the basketball Hall of Fame 2019 launch ceremony. The night before, I had noticed Stern in the crowd when I nervously strolled through my speech after receiving the Curt Gowdy Award in the hall received, but we subsequently missed each other.
So I was thrilled to watch him on the red carpet in front of the Symphony Hall, where the ceremony would begin soon. Impartial journalists probably shouldn't say things like that, but I couldn't help my always nostalgic self.
"I miss you," I said to Stern.
"I don't miss you," Stern replied, explaining that he now saw my work as an insatiable reader of the New York Times.
Then he left the courtesies of the peak of my career behind to let me know that he wanted to call me about some of the things I had written.
"And tell yourself how wrong you are," said Stern.
The commish was not yet finished.
"When do you do it right when it comes to empowering players?" Asked Stern. "Did you forget that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was leaving Milwaukee and trying to force a deal on the Lakers? Did you forget that Wilt Chamberlain lived in New York when he played for Philadelphia? It's been happening in our league for years. "
Stern trudged away. If he hadn't been under time pressure, the lecture would have been louder and longer, because at Stern there were always lectures. It was our last interaction before he died on Wednesday, almost three weeks after a sudden hemorrhage operation.
During his 30-year tenure as Commissioner, working with David J. Stern meant that you had to be prepared to be scourged, as anyone who ever played with the Columbia lawyer told you. My longtime colleague Jack McCallum, who had been a star for Sports Illustrated for decades, compared such interactions to trying to "solve the Times crossword while insulting you".
For all of its unmatched impact in steered the league from its darkest days in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a position of worldwide importance that was second only to world football and headed the N.B.A. in an unforgivable way that matched his last name. He was a workaholic, a perfectionist and often a bully.
"It's terrible to go to his office," said Charles Barkley recently on "Inside The N.B.A." at TNT and reported that the Dread Star could inspire those he had called to his old mahogany-clad hideaway in the Olympic Tower in Midtown. But Barkley, the Hall of Fame player who became the broadcaster, quickly added, "Even when he gave it to me, he did it like a father figure."
He was The Commissioner, with whom I grew up, as a teenager, who was fascinated by these unforgettable commercials in the 1980s, invariably played a lively track by The Pointer Sisters and proclaimed basketball as "America & # 39; s Game". Then I suddenly wrote every day about Stern and his “fantastic” league in the 1990s, shortly after Michael Jordan's gravity-defying brilliance and the worldwide appeal of the Dream Team led the game to Europe, Asia and beyond.
The arrival of Mark Cuban as owner of the Dallas Mavericks on January 4, 2000 20 years ago this weekend changed my interaction with Stern forever. The cheeky, outspoken Cuban was the Barkley of the team owners; Reporters hired to cover the Mavericks couldn't dare leave his side because they feared missing the latest inflammatory quote or the latest side-result that would result in a fine from the league office.
In Cuban's first seasons, as a Dallas Morning News employee, it was mandatory for me to follow Stern. It was my responsibility to chase Stern when he said goodbye to the public, hoping to answer a few individual questions about Cuba's latest violations.
The greeting was always the same: "What do you want now, stone?" – except that an explosion was almost always thrown into it.
"He and I had a lot of fights, but most ended in a hug or a laugh," the Cuban said via email on Wednesday night. "We didn't always agree, but we always knew we were on the same side."
Perhaps at the end of his reign, Stern was too moody and combative. Maybe Stern should have resigned earlier than he did. Maybe Stern should have shown more remorse about his role in leaving SuperSonics from Seattle in 2008 – or about the league's failure to rule out Donald Sterling, the former team owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Stern's successor, Adam Silver, did so quickly after taking office when sterling records emerged that made racist statements.
Despite the negativity in Stern's later years, however, it is difficult to question the assessment of two of the most influential voices in modern gaming. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and well-known writer Bill Simmons have recently called Stern the most important non-player who has ever played in the league.
In the worst case, Stern was branded an effective dictator, but I take it as a tribute to Silver that his first five seasons with such a smooth style had so much more ups and downs. I've always believed that a commissioner would have to move closer to dictatorial status and create the fear Barkley described to maintain the required authority. Silver's collaborative approach is certainly more appropriate in 2020, with the Stern approach becoming increasingly disapproved, but in some ways it may be more difficult to implement.
Star loyalists encounter the stories of condescension, arrogance, anger, and other flattering portrayals with memories of his compassion, social awareness, and how hard he fought in the game for minorities and women. Despite Stern's willingness to play the villain, Stern's death inspired the kind of heartfelt condolences and tributes due to a political dignitary.
Lon Rosen, Magic Johnson's longtime agent, called to make sure I hadn't forgotten that Stern would not stop making sure that Johnson was in space just a few months after he announced he was infected with HIV -Star game from 1992 can participate. the virus that causes AIDS.
"Earvin's dream was to play at the Olympics," said Rosen. "David had to do it. It wasn't an accomplished fact, but David could get Earvin's permission to play on the Dream Team. "
Rosen was a natural place for me to share star stories. Rosen, who was now the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, helped put together the memorable press conference on November 7, 1991, when Johnson, now one of the main owners of the Dodgers, suddenly resigned from the Lakers HIV virus, the i have achieved. "
My first N.B.A. A journalist's job outside of college was to join the army of the Los Angeles Daily News about this press conference. My specific instructions: a sidebar on star.
Rosen went on to say that there were times when even Magic was scolded so close to Johnson and Stern. In 1990, Rosen watched a one-on-one game of Magic vs. Michael in Las Vegas with a pay-per-view television audience and a huge cash prize. Stern pleaded with Johnson to retreat and was convinced that it was a bad sight for the league if its stars dueled like boxers, and Magic did.
"There was another time we were in a contract dispute with Converse and he yelled at me like I was a kid:" You will ruin Magic Johnson! "Rosen remembered." But that was David. "
It was a star – for everyone. They understood and accepted it, which is why in this last meeting I asked him to call me at any time to emphasize my stupidity.
Above all, they understood that Stern wanted everyone who had something to do with the N.B.A. care as deep as he does. Even the annoying scribes like me who just covered it.