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Pat Riley says David Stern “The No. 1 reason why this league is where it is today”

Jan 27, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Getty Images

This is David Stern’s final week as NBA Commissioner — the power exchange to Adam Silver comes over the weekend. Feb. 1 is the final day for David Stern on the job, and we all know the final day on a job you’re just screwing around and cleaning out your desk anyway. Stern is taking some long lunches this week.

Which means this week you’re going to see a lot of tributes coming from every corner to David Stern and what he meant to the league over the past 30 years.

That starts with Pat Riley, the Miami Heat president (and former Lakers’ coach early in the Stern era) who gave Stern on the highest praise speaking to Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.

“David Stern is the No. 1 force, the No. 1 reason why this league is where it is today,” Miami Heat President Pat Riley said. “That’s not disrespectful to any one great player in any one era or any owner. This has to do with the leadership of one man.

“Over that span of time, things don’t change because they’re coincidences. They don’t. There’s somebody at the top who is going to eliminate what is bad and market what is good. He was a very forceful, very pragmatic visionary.”

Owners are going to sing his praises — he has made them a lot of money over the years and molded the NBA into a $5.5 billion a year business. Players should be thankful as well — the pool of money for player salaries is based on how much money the league brings in, and this is now a league where the average player makes more than $5 million a season.

Stern was a marketing visionary who understood what the NBA had to sell was stars — Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to start, building with Michael Jordan and on through today with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and through the rising stars like Stephen Curry. The NBA can’t sell parity and the limited product (just 16 games) like the NFL, it’s a different animal. Stern understood that and steered the course.

The league is much better, much stronger for it. And we as fans are better off for it, too.

  1. leeeroooyjeeenkiiins - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    And Pat Riley also has LeBron, Wade, and Bosh on his squad. Somehow I think if he was the GM of a team like Milwaukee or Utah who couldn’t attract players like that in a million years, he might not be quite so adoring.

    • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:37 PM

      yeah somehow i think he’d still would be “adoring” as you put it, because he would still have hundreds of thousands, if not millions in his pockets

    • fseque83 - Jan 28, 2014 at 9:09 AM

      And who exaclty was it that brought those players to Miami? Riley has built great organizations, everwhere he’s been.

  2. rajbais - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    He’s wrong. It’s Larry Bird,magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Lebron James in THEIR playing days.

    Stern had two separate positive tasks done and went along for the ride.

  3. nykfanwakemeupin2015 - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    Its easy to quickly hate on Stern. As a fan of basketball it is pretty tough to enjoy watching the games. However the game has changed a lot because of how sensitive and volatile the players are. They cannot handle the 90’s grittyness. They pretend to be ready to throw down que Lebron James against the Nets a couple of weeks ago.

    From the players aspect they should love him. They are all over paid. Look at game changing football players and then your average basketball players salary. Its comical. Thugs, spoiled brats and your occasional professional…..

    • therealhtj - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:07 PM

      Not tackling guaranteed salaries before they got out of hand is his legacy while helping losing owners get rich in the process.

      • nykfanwakemeupin2015 - Jan 27, 2014 at 3:47 PM

        I def agree with this Especially being a Knicks fan.

    • antistratfordian - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:51 PM

      90’s players couldn’t even handle the “grittiness” of the 90’s. Here’s Michael Jordan complaining about the Pistons:

      Outside of Detroit, I think people will be happy they’re not the reigning champions anymore. It’ll mean that we’re getting back to a clean game and getting the Bad Boy image away from the game. People don’t want this kind of basketball: the dirty play, the flagrant foul, the unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s bad for basketball. People want to see that type of basketball out. I think because the Pistons have been so successful, other teams have tried to do it, and I don’t think it’s been good for the game.

      People roll their eyes when LeBron talks about a hit not being a basketball play – but is a legitimate gripe because he does get clotheslined, hit or even tackled in old-school ways. Some teams are instructed by their coaches to hit him hard or to wrap him up when he gets close to the rim (the problem is that a “wrap up” when it comes to LeBron moving that fast ends up being a tackle), and the players know if they don’t do it hard enough LeBron will simply power through it. So James genuinely gets hammered a lot – more than most players.

      In any case, Michael Jordan had similar complaints about the exact same things.

      • miamatt - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:13 PM

        An early comment of the year candidate.

        The other thing is people ignore the fact that it is the rule changes that sparked changes in the game, not a soft generation of new stars. As somebody who was a fan in the 90s- and a fan of one of the poster-child teams for hack ’em up basketball, the Mourining/Riley Heat- I’d say the changes were warranted. I mean, how many 78-75 playoff games do you really wanna see?

        If any of today’s current stars were born and raised in that basketball climate, they would be accustomed to it and adapted to it. Even so, as your comment shows, not everybody was a fan. And complaining about it does not make one “soft”.

      • kingtotz - Jan 28, 2014 at 1:36 AM

        @anti: have you seen the Piston’s defense on MJ? Those were really HARD fouls that would be clearly a flagrant nowadays. When a whistle is blown, they would intentionally hit him because no fouls would be called after the whistle. Every time MJ drove to the basket he would fall hard. ONE REALLY BAD FALL and it could be a career ending injury. have you seen those?

        Have you seen a hard foul on LBJ? LOL

        They complained both, but each are getting VERY DIFFERENT HARD FOULS.

      • antistratfordian - Jan 28, 2014 at 3:08 PM

        Of course I’ve seen the Pistons defense – but you’re exaggerating. Go back and watch those Bulls-Pistons series again and be honest with yourself. The most notorious hit was probably Rodman pushing Pippen into some chairs – Watch it and you will hear the announcer say, “that’s what Michael Jordan was talking about – they just don’t want to see that in our basketball game.”

        But… it wasn’t that bad.

        That Rodman push certainly wasn’t anywhere near as vicious as some of the blows we’ve seen on players like JJ Barea, Lance Stephenson or James Harden. It was called a flagrant foul then, and it would be called a flagrant foul today – but it’s not something you wouldn’t see in 2014.

        In fact, I would argue that something like that flagrant filled Heat-Pacers series from 2012 could hold its own against that Bulls-Pistons series when it comes to cheap shots, physicality and blood. Heat-Bulls also has similar bad blood and intentions.

        But LeBron gets hit with some blows that would probably send a pipsqueak like Jordan to the hospital. You have to hit LeBron harder so he can feel it, because he’s bigger and stronger. What would floor MJ doesn’t bother LeBron James as much.

        Take this exchange between MJ and Rodman, for example – – it had Jordan on the ground in the fetal position for several minutes. LeBron sees that often – we’ve all seen it happen to him often – but you won’t see James laying there like he’s dying afterwards. Again, a play like that is nothing out of the ordinary in today’s league.

        How many times does LeBron get grabbed around the neck and shoulders and clotheslined in a game? At least twice? Every game. Regular season and playoffs. Jordan only had to see that type of treatment when he faced the Pistons or the Knicks.

      • heatlebronwade - Jan 28, 2014 at 3:30 AM

        Stern deservies all the credit in the world for were the Nba is today. Stars like Koby Briant, Blake griffin, Kevin Darant, Stephen Curry and Paul George wouldnt be where are they today if not because David Stern. I hardly even started wathed basketball 4 years ago but, fan interest went up and is more popular.

        Pat Riley is a class act an the best profechinol owner in all og sports.

    • fseque83 - Jan 28, 2014 at 9:13 AM

      Why are they thugs? Who cares you’re a Knicks fan, as usual, clueless. The players of today would’ve handled the grittines just fine, if that was they game they had to play, but they grew up watching and playing a much weaker game do to all the rule changes. 90’s basketball was unwatchable, every games was in the 80s or 90s. BTW as a Heat fan, I love to see the Knicks suffer. Have a good day!

  4. mogogo1 - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    I give Stern lots of credit for his marketing savvy. He did help popularize the game, no question. Unfortunately, a downside to that marketing was the “me-first” attitude (supported by the league’s own advertising) where it became more about individual players than the teams.

    He also did a lousy job the past few years as commissioner–there were multiple relocations, expansions and ownership scandals that could have been handled better or outright averted if Stern would have taken a stand. He basically retired several years ago but just kept collecting a check.

    • antistratfordian - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:56 PM

      When the league was about the teams nobody wanted to watch it. It gained popularity because of its stars, so what else was the commish supposed to do? They push Larry, Magic and Michael and everybody loves it… they do something else and nobody cares.

      But a positive thing now though is that the league’s reigning MVP and champions are definitely team-first. So all is not lost for the likes of you.

  5. asimonetti88 - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    As a marketing professional, I would say Stern is an inspiration. As a fan of basketball, not so much.

  6. crazycane - Jan 27, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    There hasn’t been this big of a discrepancy in terms of the good and bad teams in the NBA ever.

    That’s not a good thing

    • belleby123 - Jan 28, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      It happens in every sport when you spread the talent too thin. Basketball has gone the way of baseball.

  7. shuttaman1990 - Jan 27, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    Of course the same stern that rigged the 06 finals?

    Man stern is the devil.
    Basketball reasons?
    Don’t let the door hit you on the back STERN!
    Lakers all day.

    • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:42 PM

      I KNOW you’re not talking about a game being rigged and you’re a laker fan?? does the 2002 playoffs against the kings not ring a bell????? seriously dude give it up…and i actually liked the lakers back then so I’m being unbiased

      • shuttaman1990 - Jan 28, 2014 at 10:36 AM

        Aye breh everyone knows it was rigged. 02 playoffs? Nah breh. Stern loves you guys and lbj and wade.

      • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Jan 28, 2014 at 6:08 PM

        i never said it wasn’t, but go ahead and look it up…if I’m not mistaken one of those refs was suspended bc he bet on that series…breh

  8. Jeff - Jan 27, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    Only 15 of the NBA’s 30 teams have won championships since 1967, year of the first Super Bowl.
    The other leagues since ’67 …
    NFL = 18/32
    MLB = 20/30
    NHL = 18/30
    And since Stern has taken over the NBA, that percentage is was less than 50.

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 27, 2014 at 6:55 PM

      That’s because one player can change the game more in basketball than in those other sports. Barry Bonds was the best player of his era, was even “superhuman” at points because of performance enhancing drugs, but he never won a championship. A similarly talented player to Bonds in the NBA would win multiple titles because they could change the game so much easier. That’s just how basketball as a game works. If you don’t like it, then maybe basketball isn’t for you.

      • miamatt - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        Here, here.

        Some people advocate parity in the NBA as though we’ve seen it before and it was great. Fans tune in to watch great players on great teams, and since one player on the court is 20% of his team at any given time elite players affect the game that much more.

        This is a star-driven league and if that is a turn off- well, no need for me to regurgitate @asimonetti88’s comment.

    • 00maltliquor - Jan 28, 2014 at 2:41 AM

      Calm yourself Jeff. That’s one of the most useless stats I’ve ever seen.

  9. xli2006 - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    Hmm, Pat are you talking about the partially empty arenas, questionable fundamentals, lethargic play of quite a few teams, “tanking” for draft picks, and rampant misuse of the supposed salary cap??? Quite a few retired players have spoken out basically saying they are embarrassed by the overall quality of play (at least until the playoffs).

    Or are you strictly talking dollars? Money, always about the money.

    • fseque83 - Jan 28, 2014 at 9:20 AM

      I see you are a glass half empty, type of person.

  10. belleby123 - Jan 28, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Was he being sarcastic?

    • davidly - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:19 AM

      Yes. Yes, he was. What is lost in the transcription are his demonstrative finger quotes and eye rolls.

      • belleby123 - Jan 30, 2014 at 7:02 AM


    • davidly - Jan 30, 2014 at 7:11 AM

      I was just kidding. I assume he was actually serious.

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