Oct 25, 2012, 10:37 PM EDT
David Stern said Thursday as he talked about stepping down as commissioner that he is not a big fan of the “L”word — legacy. So we’ll call it his story. It could make a good novel.
David Stern’s story is a uniquely American story. His is a story about a smart, savvy, businessman chasing the dollar on behalf of the other, richer men that hired him. He could be genial, he at times was ruthless.
David Stern was all business with the NBA.
The result features so much good — you can argue he saved the NBA and today players and owners prosper because of his vision. But there is a ying to the yang — two lockouts to start with, there are fans in places like Seattle left wanting. Good or bad, everything on his ledger is a result of him chasing money. He will tell you about the good of the game, but for him what is good for the game is seen through the prism of dollar signs.
Ultimately, how you look at Stern’s legacy speaks to how you look at America’s corporate culture. Above everything else Stern was he was a businessman. Adam Silver, the incoming commissioner when Stern steps down in 2014, both embraced and praised that about Stern.
“David has transformed an industry, not just the NBA, and he has done it over 30 years plus…” said Silver at a press conference Thursday, adding that Stern had been the NBA general council before he became commissioner. “I think David is the one who turned sports leagues into brands, if you want to speak business. As (Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor) pointed out, 40-fold increase in television revenue, all kinds of other business metrics we can look at that would define David as one of the great business leaders of our time.”
Stern was a great business and marketing mind, and what great business minds do is seize on an opportunity.
That opportunity came first in the form of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, then Michael Jordan after them. Those were transcendent personalities, people who made you want to tune in and watch basketball because it was fun and graceful and part work of art. Then they could sell the game afterwards.
But Stern knew how to market those men and to lift the entire NBA by doing so. In 1981 four of the six NBA finals games were shown by CBS on tape delay, but a few years later the NBA was must watch television. Stern knew how to market his stars and while some complain about the NBA being star driven not team driven, the bottom line is that stars drew eyeballs.
If it had not been for Stern and his vision for the television product, the NBA would not be close to what it is today.
He was a marketing man, and that made the NBA owners a lot of money. You don’t get to keep your job as commissioner for 30 years unless your bosses are happy, and the owners have been happy. Franchise values rose with those television deals, which led to new arneas, which led to more and more revenue streams. He grew the league by adding team. He grew the revenue by pushing the league internationally
And the players benefitted, too — they get a cut of all of that revenue. Players’ salaries are required to be a part of the league’s revenue.
But any chase for money has unpleasant consequences.
It was how share all that revenue which led to Stern’s darkest hours — the two NBA lockouts under Sterns watch. His rich owners wanted more money and Stern was happy to be their bulldog and get it from the players. To take that profitable league he built and say how owners couldn’t make money any more came off as condescending, but it didn’t slow him down.
Stern was good was finding rich owners and not really worrying about what they wanted — which led to Seattle being screwed out of a franchise, and the five other cities that saw teams move while Stern was owner.
Even down to the simple things — the NBA’s dress code of a few years ago was aimed at softening the hip-hop image of players and making them more palatable to the older, more conservative, more suburban people paying for the ever-more-expensive luxury boxes and corporate seats near the floor.
In the end, that chase for the almighty dollar may have hurt some but it left us with a better game. It’s a game we can now see for free on our HD televisions almost nightly. The NBA’s rule changes — like the no hand checking on the perimeter — opened up the flow of the game and made it more entertaining. Even things like taking the three-point line from the old ABA helped space the floor and has led to a better product. David Stern understood how to get a product that fans want and could be more easily sold.
The NBA and basketball in general are better off and more popular because of Stern. His legacy is not without scars and tarnish, but in the end the league was better off because of his nearly 30 years in charge.
And through it all, David Stern was all business.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
It might be because short of an insane offer of a max deal, Thompson would rather take his chances as a restricted free agent next summer.
Oct 25, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Nice job of McCallum to stay active on a play where he had already missed a shot.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Will Thomas make Kings regret choosing Darren Collison over him?
Oct 25, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Thunder will be very short-handed the first month of the regular season.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
It’s far from guaranteed that they will use it.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
And it was probably the smartest possible play
Oct 24, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
76ers forwent any guaranteed salary to hit free agency sooner
Oct 24, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Bucks point guard Nate Wolters makes heads-up play
Oct 24, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
Can’t say I ever pictured that.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT
This is a minor trade, even in Sam Hinkie’s world.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
Clippers owner affirms reputation
Byron Scott says Lakers may need to trade for point guard. For now, Ronnie Price starts, Jeremy Lin off bench.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT
Expect the Lakers to try and trade for a point guard… no, not Rajon Rondo.
Oct 24, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Nash was everything we want as a fan in an NBA player.
Report: Tobias Harris won’t sign contract extension, would get Nike bonus by playing in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles
Oct 24, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Could forward leave the Magic in 2016?
Oct 24, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order. JaVale McGee played just five games last year after injuring his leg. How did we…
Oct 24, 2014, 2:18 PM EDT
Varejao the better choice, but Cleveland should be careful here
Oct 24, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
Phil Jackson says the triangle is not rocket science.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
Pacers center filling huge role after last season’s great start, big collapse
Oct 24, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Childress, who played for Pelicans last season, now playing (dirty) in Australia
Oct 24, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Are Heat stars too old to succeed without LeBron James?
- Report: Cavaliers have had ‘zero discussion’ on contract extension with Tristan Thompson 0
- Why I am going to miss Steve Nash 26
- Victor Oladipo out indefinitely after taking elbow in practice, suffering facial fracture 13
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans 10
- Five teams poised to make a big leap forward this season 5
- Steve Nash to miss entire 2014-15 season with ongoing back injuries 70
- Jeanie Buss: ‘Any free agent that would be afraid to play with Kobe Bryant is probably a loser’ 71
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Memphis Grizzlies 8