N.B.A. Superstars, Growth and Lockout: The David Star Years



David Joel Stern was born in Manhattan on September 22, 1942. It was the day after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and the Nazis' march east through Europe came to a halt outside of Stalingrad. The Dodgers ran closer to home with 9: 8 against the Giants at Brooklyn Ebbets Field.

The Knicks that Team Stern would have chosen as a boy would only be there after four years.

When Stern died on Wednesday at the age of 77, basketball was inextricably interwoven with the stories of African Americans and Jewish Americans, fans who grew up in rural Indiana and America's cities. It had been exported to the most remote parts of the world and then back again; The most valuable player of the N.B.A. was born in Niger last year and his champion was a Canadian team with employees from three continents.

Basketball owes its rise to its players – their dunks and blocks, their 3-pointers and their air balls – but also Stern, the son of a deli owner. Stern's nearly five decades of collaboration with the N.B.A. has brought it from a sleepy league to a league with almost unmatched global and cultural power.

Stern had many critics, especially later in his tenure as Commissioner, but his influence is clear. The history of the N.B.A. is the story of David Stern's life.

After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1966, Stern joined Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, the then law firm of N.B.A. He caught public attention for the first time for his work in the Oscar Robertson case in 1976, which involved both the creation of a free agency and the transfer of four teams from the emerging American Basketball Association to the N.B.A. led.

As Executive Vice President of N.B.A. In 1983 he led the league by agreeing on a revenue share – the players would make 53 percent of gross revenue – and a wage cap. The incentives for players and owners to work together to increase revenue became the economic foundation of today's N.B.A. and ushered in 15 years of relative work peace.

In the early years, the players didn't seem to regard Stern as opponents and respected his work on behalf of the league.

When Stern was appointed to succeed Larry O’Brien as Commissioner on February 1, 1984, the N.B.A. was not in good shape Stern's great solution to the N.B.A.'s financial and reputation problems Relentlessly market star players more than teams. The 1960s and early 1980s rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers eventually became the rivalry of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

In February 1986, star Micheal Ray Richardson, an all-star keeper for the networks, banished from the N.B.A. for life after three positive drug tests. Later that year, Len Bias died of an overdose of cocaine, just two days after being selected by the Celtics with the second choice of the design.

Stern campaigned for doctors to visit each team to educate players about the disease and to inform cautious owners that if they excluded Johnson from playing they could be sued.

After starting lineups were announced in Orlando, every member of the East team went to Johnson and hugged him. He scored 25 points and led the West to a 40 point win the most valuable player of the game.

Nothing catapulted the N.B.A. The Dream Team gained world fame in 1992, the first group of basketball professionals to take part in the Olympic Games. The United States brought 11 future Hall of Famers (and Christian Laettner) to the games in Barcelona, ​​where they won with an average of 44 points and did not mention a single break. The stories about this team – like the malicious practices in Monte Carlo in which Jordan and Johnson attack each other – have become basketball folklore.

Stern didn't usually see that as a visionary. The United States has voted against allowing professionals to participate in the Olympic Games. "We told FIBA ​​that we didn't want to get involved in the Olympics, but we would try to be good soldiers to support basketball," Stern told GQ Magazine.

After the decline of Magic & # 39; s Lakers and Bird & # 39; s Celtics and a short break from Detroit Bad Boys, the N.B.A. belonged to Jordan. His bulls won three championships in a row and wanted more, and then the unthinkable happened: Jordan retired from basketball in 1993 at the age of 30.

Jordan, tired of being a superstar, had previously thought about retiring publicly, but he ultimately made the decision two months after his father's murder.

"Five years later, when the urge comes back, when the cops will have me, when David Stern lets me back into the league, I can come back," he said when he announced his retirement.

The wait would take less than two years. After playing minor league baseball for a season, the basketball move drew Jordan back. After three more championships with the bulls, he retired for the second time in 1998 and then returned to the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003.

The good feelings from the 1983 collective agreement could only last as long. The clashes in 1995 and 1996 were the prelude to what was to come: the owners banned the players for seven months in 1998 and 1999, and finally a shortened schedule of 50 games was played.

It ended with a win for the owners, who set the first maximum salary limit for American professional athletes primarily based on Stern's tactics. "You have to honor David Stern a lot," said Will Perdue in one oral history of the lockout. “He did a good job separating players, agents, and players from agents. The players didn't know who to believe. "

But it was expensive. The interest of the fans in the game collapsed and the early to mid 2000s were for the N.B.A. before LeBron James and a new generation of stars revive the league.

The most famous fight in N.B.A. History started routinely. In the Detroit arena, Ben Wallace and Ron Artest had 45.9 seconds to fight for a serious foul in an early season game between the Pistons and the Pacers at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Artest lay down on the goalscorer table as the referees joined forces to discuss the punishment when a fan hit Artest with a cup of Diet Coke in the chest.

Artest stormed into the stands and accidentally reached for another fan. His teammate Stephen Jackson joined him. Brawls started in the stands and the fans ran into the square. Jermaine O’Neal slid to the floor and let go of a wild haymaker.

The players were banned for a total of 146 games, including 86 for Artest.

In an echo 20 years earlier, some media commentators and white fans had started to look at the league as too black with racist eyes. They complained that the players had rows of corn and diamond rivets in their ears and were wearing loose clothes. After the Pistons-Pacers brawl in 2004, they said the players had gotten out of control. Allen Iverson received as much attention for his extrajudicial style as for his pre-judicial transcendence.

In response, Stern released a dress code prior to the 2005 season that required players to wear business casual wear at team and league events. The racist subtext was blatant, especially when people like Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the quiet part out loud:

"I think it's important for players to come to an end, leave the prison robe and the thuggery aspect of basketball that has been associated with hip-hop music for the past seven or eight years."

In a (n In an interview with ESPN, Stern defended the implementation of the dress code and said it didn't bother him when he was described as racist:

Running is always an issue, and so it is. And the N.B.A. has always been on the brink of race discussions. In all collective bargaining, I was accused of a plantation mentality.

The worst scandal on the course in Stern's tenure began on July 20, 2007 when the New York Post reported that an unnamed N.B.A. The referee was examined for betting on basketball games that he directed. A month later, referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to two crimes and admitted to sharing information with the bookmakers.

Stern called it the "worst situation I've ever seen", but insisted that it was an isolated incident, while Donaghy said over the years that the referees and the league themselves had unduly influenced the outcome of the games. A decade later, the debate is still raging over whether Donaghy was the only villain umpire or the N.B.A. missed or ignored more evidence of misconduct.

When Sonics owner Howard Schultz couldn't get as much public funding as he wanted for a new arena in Seattle, he sold the team to Clay Bennett and a group from Oklahoma City in 2006. Buyers had recently helped the Hornets move temporarily from New Orleans to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina. While the new Sonics owners were saying the right things to respect Seattle, it was clear that they were ultimately planning to move the team to Oklahoma.

After settling a lengthy lawsuit, Bennett did so in 2008 and left Seattle without an N.B.A. Team after 41 seasons. Stern's lack of effort to prevent the move and his years of saber rattling to get Seattle to pay for a new Sonics arena left him persona non grata in Seattle.

Thirteen years after the 1998 lockout, the owners did it again. Since it was claimed that the majority of the teams lost money, the owners asked for more of the revenue pool and eventually got it, increasing their stake from 43 percent to 50 percent. What if you had to skip 16 regular season games to achieve this?

In contrast to the lockout of 1998, the 2011 version has the popularity of the N.B.A. not affected. The fans wanted to see the heat super team, the talented Lakers, Celtics and Bulls and the rising star Thunder.

Stern retired in 2014 after 30 years and handed the job over to his long-time deputy Adam Silver. In its first eight months, Silver Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, banned racist statements and signed a groundbreaking $ 24 billion television contract.

The N.B.A. is now firmly in the silver league.