On Deck: To Honor A Legacy

Learn from Stern!
Learn from Stern!

By Will Martin

It was back in October when it was announced that National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern would be stepping down from his post on February 1, 2014.

Thus a 30 year run of commissionership will come to an end, a run that had many, many highs, and sure, a couple of regrettable lows.

Like any transition, you hope this will be seamless, yet even with the unanimous selection of Adam Silver to take over the NBA reins, don’t think Stern will be going away quietly. He will be there to assist from a distance.

Certainly you can’t argue with this rationale as David Stern himself will attest. In case you forgot this is what we were told back on October 25, 2012: “For myself, I have agreed at the request of the board to make some time available after I  leave the NBA, move out of the office completely, but wherever I am, I will be available for some assignments to be directed by the board or by Adam particularly in the international area where I have some experience,” Stern said. “In the next 15 months, we are going to work together on the most seamless executive CEO transition that we hope will serve as an example for all business, not just sports leagues.”

You spend an extended period of time in one job, one capacity, for the goal of seeking the greater good of a product to tremendous results. You then gently step aside and pass the proverbial baton to an up-and-comer who will be well-groomed by his predecessor. It would be very easy to make mention of that “L word.” The one that ends in Y and is pronounced ‘legacy’.

Don’t tell that to David Stern!

“I’m not a big believer in the ‘L word,’ legacy,” Stern said. “I just want people to say that he steered the Good Ship NBA through all kinds of interesting times, some choppy waters, some extraordinary opportunities, and managed to on his watch, the league grew in popularity, became a global phenomenon, and the owners and the players and the fans did very well.”

With the NBA season heading into playoff mode it occurs to this writer that this will be the last one under Stern. Yet we wonder, how will Silver do next February and beyond?

“Adam was a no-brainer,” said new Board of Governors head and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt. “The point I’m making, he’s been there over 20 years, he has been a huge part of what the NBA has become, he has been involved in every aspect of the NBA, and we want to continue that. We think continuity, particularly at this time, for the NBA and probably sports in general around the world because of the way it’s growing around the world, is paramount, and Adam is the man that can do it. So all 30 owners were absolutely in agreement…We love David, and the timing gives the transformation from David to Adam a smoothness to it that we want to continue.”

Looking back, Stern had many years of grooming to prepare himself for that February date in 1984. It began as acting outside legal counsel under Proskauer Rose in 1966. Under Larry O’Brien’s term he would become general counsel in 1978. He was promoted to executive vice president in 1980.

A few things come to mind about this time frame. The league had a huge image problem with drug abuse that was cleaned up over time through the NBA Players Association.

Additionally, a decision was reached in salary cap as to how teams and players would share money with gained revenues. This came in a dark period in the NBA where, if you are old enough to remember, the 1980 Finals were not shown live but on tape delay on CBS at a late hour.

The NBA as we know it today is chock full of superstars. No less than four entered the league in 1984 along with Stern – Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and Michael Jordan. In less than a decade’s time, Stern was instrumental in making the game popular in the States, across the world, and accessible to men and women with the birth of the Women’s NBA in the mid 90s.

The NBA now has 11 offices in cities outside the United States, is televised in 215 countries worldwide in 43 languages, and operates the WNBA and the National Basketball Development League. Up to 25 percent of current NBA players have stopped by the NBDL.

In barely scratching the surface for the past 30 years David Stern did more things right than wrong. That makes him worthy of that “L word” Legacy!