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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.

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