In remembrance of visionary NBA commissioner David Stern

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Tributes have come pouring in for David Stern. Current and past players and coaches and NBA writers have paid their respects to the late NBA commissioner, who served with distinction from 1984 to 2014 at the top of the world’s premier basketball league.

On social media, in newspapers and on websites spanning the globe, Stern’s profound impact on the game and personal remembrances of the native New Yorker are on display.

Stern’s death at age 77 on New Year’s Day has been one of the biggest global stories this week, one that hit home for those who knew him well during his many decades in the game.

Tributes to David Stern

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe penned a thoughtful tribute to Stern, including the following insights:

“During two major labor conflicts — the lockouts of 1998-99 and 2011 — Stern was able to procure agreements that avoided the cancellation of those seasons. Eventually television revenue generated enough money for the league to flourish and for players to earn unprecedented salaries.

“Stern was able to create peace between the league’s owners — many from smaller markets believing a lockout was the lone remedy to re-seize financial power — and the players, who have become much more educated about their labor agreement and more empowered over the decades.

“Now the NBA is a healthy, burgeoning, and ever-popular league with owners no longer crying broke and the elite players earning hundreds of millions of dollars. It includes many players from overseas. There is now a surging minor league, league offices in South Africa, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, London, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil, and a Twitter account with nearly 29 million followers.

“Stern left his 30-year undertaking in good hands. There was exponential growth, financial windfall, and worldwide popularity.

So, thank you, Mr. Stern, for helping form the most exciting, enjoyable, and open-minded league in professional sports.

“We mourn Stern’s loss. But appreciation and gratitude should supersede the pain.”

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard wrote: “Under Stern, the NBA went from dozens of employees to thousands, from domestic to global, from secondary sport to multi-billion dollar entertainment. … Forever ahead of the curve, Stern read Ad Age and Mediaweek back when his peers were reading the sports section. He oversaw the creation of All-Star Weekend, the inception of the draft lottery, the first Dream Team, and, later, the D League and the WNBA. He was an early champion of cable, the internet, and international expansion. His gift was to see not just around the first corner, but two or three.

“Along the way, Stern became something of an unintentional celebrity, the familiar ‘basketball-shaped man,’ as SI once described him, who came on TV in a suit in June to announce the draft pick you hated, then reappeared a year later to hand a trophy to a team that (chances were) wasn’t yours. To fans, he represented the perfect antagonist: an empty vessel they could blame for the lockout, or the Knicks ‘somehow’ getting Patrick Ewing, or the latest referee conspiracy.

“Stern reveled in the role. He understood the value of narrative, of heroes and villains. As long as the league benefited, he was happy.

Personal recollections

Legendary Boston sports journalist Bob Ryan tweeted, “I am truly saddened to hear that David Stern has died. He helped transform a sleeping giant of a sport into a global force. Even better, he was an anti-stuffed shirt commissioner, a guy you could joke and have fun with.”

Likewise, longtime New York hoop columnist and analyst Peter Vecsey underscored Stern’s personality in a remembrance on Twitter: “David Stern was always a fun sparring partner, even while being scolded. He was always up for debate, much of it laced with acute humor, usually at my expense. How could I not respect a man who always let me know his feelings, to my face?! Very sorry for his loss of life.”

Final thoughts

The last word today comes from the great Bill Russell, who won 11 titles in his 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics.

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