Like him or not, and most people don’t, NBA commissioner David Stern has taken the NBA and made it a global product in his time as the league’s head figure.
However, as the league survived a lockout a season ago and is set to begin an 82-game regular season for the first time in two years, Stern made the surprising announcement that he would be stepping down in 2014.
It shouldn’t be that surprising, as it has appeared he has been laying the groundwork for his departure for the past several seasons. However today’s announcement was still surprising nonetheless.
During the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings in midtown Manhattan, Stern advised the league’s owners of his intention to retire on Feb. 1, 2014, the 30-year anniversary of his taking the job. In doing so, Stern, who turned 70 last month, has stayed very much in the character he’s developed during those three decades.
He made it clear he will remain in charge of league operations for the next 15 months, making sure his hand-picked successor will be installed. The league owners said they will begin negotiating with deputy commissioner Adam Silver to take over for Stern when those 15 months end.
“It’s been a great run. The league is in, I think, terrific condition,” Stern said (via ESPN). “I’d like to think I did an adequate job. But one of the things I did best was provide a successor. I’m not going anyplace in the next 15 months, but this gives us the opportunity to have a very smooth transition.”
He’s right about the league being in great shape.
During Stern’s tenure the league’s annual revenue from its television contract increased 40 times, and the average player salary jumped from $250,000 a year in 1984 to more than $5 million right now.
Stern has always been surrounded by controversy and has always been viewed as a shrewd negotiator, but he has impacted his game in a more positive fashion than any of the commissioners in the four major sports during that time frame.
On his watch, there has been extremely strong revenue growth throughout the league, the expansion from 23 to 30 teams, the movement into small markets such as Sacramento, Memphis and Oklahoma City, the spreading global reach spurred on by the league’s backing of letting its players take part in the Olympics, and the establishment of the WNBA.
Stern also oversaw the implementation of drug testing that helped root out a major league issue in the 1980s.
In addition the value of franchises went up in a big way. When Stern took over in 1984, teams were being sold in the $20 million range. In 2010, the Golden State Warriors set a record when they were sold for $450 million.
On the surface, Stern is not a likeable guy and for every good thing he has done, there have been whispers of conspiracies behind the scenes, ranging from the very first draft lottery in 1984, in which the New York Knicks won the rights to draft Patrick Ewing, to last season’s lottery, and everything in between.
Heck, there was even an FBI investigation about one of his referees involved with illegal gambling.
Stern has angered as many people in his near 30 years as he has reached out to. He often seems to not care about his fan base, one that has made the NBA what it is today.
During his watch, he’s made sure to protect his larger market teams, while not necessarily giving the same due to the smaller market teams.
But with everything negative associated with Stern, you can’t argue about the success the league has had and the shape that it is in right now and at the end of the day, that is really all that matters when evaluating his legacy.
Fifteen years from now, Stern likely won’t be missed much among the fans of the NBA.
However, here’s hoping that Silver can have similar success and a similar tenure to that of his predecessor.
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