||01-30-2014 11:37 AM
30 years of David Stern
NEW LEVELS OF EXPOSURE
It's barely believable today in a world in which we can watch what we want, when we want. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some NBA Finals games still were televised on tape-delay.
More than 26 million people watched Game 7 of the Finals last year between Miami and San Antonio, and the Finals were televised in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages.
Turner Broadcasting System president David Levy, who enhanced TNT's and NBA TV's relationship with the NBA, has known Stern for three decades. Worked with him to promote the game. Bargained with him to retain rights.
"David was very forward-thinking and focused on the TV business," Levy said. "But not just the TV business, but the entire media business, which includes digital. He was always at the forefront of thinking about all screens all the time. He spent a lot of time with all the new technologies."
At one point or another, Stern and the NBA have been partners with three major networks: CBS, NBC and ABC. But Stern realized he needed more avenues to showcase players and went to cable, the first major pro sports league to go that route.
Either on network or cable, you can see an NBA game every day of the week, not including games in a local market. Plus, you can watch almost every game on TV, laptop and mobile devices all over the world.
"Going into meetings with David, you not only had to be prepared on what you were going to do from a television perspective, you needed to prepare for what you were going to do from a cross-platform perspective," Levy said.
Not only is the game televised all over the world, it is played everywhere, too. It is one of the most popular participant sports in the world.
Stern capitalized on that as well. He introduced international players to the NBA and NBA players to the international game.
"David always saw the big picture. He saw there was much more opportunity than met the eye. If you go through life with blinders on, you're going to miss opportunities. He sensed it. He knew it," Colangelo said. "He saw the world landscape and the opportunity for the NBA."
In 1992, NBA players played in the Olympics for the first time, and the USA steamrolled the field, winning gold easily. There were just 21 international players on NBA rosters that year. Now the NBA plays regular-season and preseason games outside of North America, including one in London earlier this month.
At the start of the 2013-14 season, 92 international players - one of every five players - were on NBA rosters. And headed into the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain this summer, the USA might not be the favorite.
After he steps down, Stern plans to work with the Reliance Foundation, a philanthropic organization in India, and bring basketball to 500,000 kids in the country.
NOT ALL GOOD TIMES, EITHER
Stern's tenure wasn't immaculate. He had issues to resolve, problems to solve and the law to lay down.
Two NBA lockouts resulted in labor stoppages: a 50-game season in 1998-99 and a 66-game season in 2011-12. The incident known as the Malice at the Palace between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons culminated in 146 games worth of suspensions and $10 million in lost wages for nine players. Referee Tim Donaghy's gambling scandal shook the league's integrity. Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brought guns into the Washington Wizards arena, infuriating Stern. He thought the worst when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive.
Stern hated when players did something that caused the league damage, and not just because it put the league in a negative light.
"He was always very protective of the players," National Basketball Players Association acting director Ron Klempner said. "He defended the players publicly and privately. I always felt that's genuine. I never felt that was artificial. It wasn't a look. He certainly recognized the perception of the players was tied to the success of the sport and the owners who hired him. But that's not what drove him toward that level of protectiveness and care for the players."
Stern has admitted, "I haven't enjoyed having the responsibility to end careers."
Substance abuse - both alcohol and hard drugs - was a problem, and Stern, along with the players union, cleaned it up. But twice, he ended the career of Micheal Ray Richardson because of substance abuse.
"He really didn't want to do it, but he didn't have no other choice," Richardson said. "I've heard him say several times it was the roughest thing he had ever to do in his years on the job. At the same time, if I wouldn't have been doing it, he wouldn't have had to make that decision. I took full responsibility for that."
In the late 1990s, Stern and Richardson, now the coach of a Canadian professional basketball team in London, Ontario, were in Paris for an NBA event.
"I went up to said to him, 'I really appreciate what you have done for me,' " Richardson said. "Because if you look at the whole picture, he saved my life. I was going on a path where I shouldn't have been going. What he did was, after doing something drastic to me, woke me up. He changed my life. He's a real part of where I am today in life."
Said Walton, "He never let the cleanliness of theory get in the way of the messiness of reality."
MAKING GAINS AND GAINING RESPECT
Make no mistake, Stern is no softy. His temper and micromanaging are legendary. Like the time he admonished an employee for a display in the NBA Store. Or the time he lit into Riley for calling out an official by name during the 1982 Finals. Or the time he scolded union officials for leaking to reporters the location of a labor negotiating meeting.
The wrath of Stern wasn't pleasant. Whether it was team owner, a players' union official, a player, an NBA staffer or a reporter, Stern blasted away as he saw fit.
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor recalled asking question after question at a board of governors meeting shortly after he purchased the team. Stern told him to be quiet and the next day made him the chair of the audit committee.
Los Angeles Lakers chairman Jeanie Buss delicately said, "He didn't waste words."
Tactfully, Taylor said, "He did have a very strong personality."
Joe Maloof, whose family owned the Sacramento Kings until May, said, "Let him blow off his steam and then stay away from him for a while."
Levy, the TV executive said, "You've got to be prepared. He goes nose to nose. He's a very, very astute listener. He asks questions and he's not shy. Certainly you did have hard-fought battles that in the end I would say turned out to be win-wins."
Klempner has sat across from Stern at the bargaining table numerous times.
What was that like? "Horrible," Klempner said. "It's an adversary who's prepared and making your arguments better than you are. He never lets down his guard. He never exhibits any weakness. He's constantly in control of himself and his own side of the table. He's such a difference-maker when it comes to the economics, the appearance, the end product. You can't quantify the difference he makes and has made in the growth of our game."
While it sometimes seemed the opposite, Stern answered to owners, but he had to get wealthy, successful and competitive people on the same page. They have an unwavering loyalty to him.
"Everything David did wasn't arbitrary," Buss said. "It was to do what was best for the league. Sometimes it wasn't always best for an individual team. But you knew he always came from a place of integrity."
The latest collective bargaining agreement wasn't ideal for the Lakers. It made it difficult for ownership to outspend opponents, and the no team will contribute as much to the revenue-sharing pot as the Lakers.
"My dad (Jerry Buss) had been involved in professional leagues prior to the NBA that weren't successful, and he knew that you were only as good of a league as your weakest partner," Buss said. "It was important to make sure all the teams were strong in the NBA, and David got owners on the same page."
Among the several responsibilities owners charged Stern with: Increasing revenue and, in turn, the value of franchises.
That has been an undeniable success.
•James Dolan bought the New York Knicks for $300 million, and Forbes, in its latest valuations, said the team is worth $1.4 billion.
•Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks for $200 million; Forbes now pegs their value at $765 million.
•Paul Allen purchased the Portland Trail Blazers for $70 million and are worth $587 million, according to Forbes.
•The Maloofs acquired the Sacramento Kings for $156 million in 1998 and sold their 65% share for $348 million last year
David Stern leaves as 'No. 1 reason' for NBA success
"He built the value of the franchises and you can see that through what we sold our team for," Maloof said.
Stern couldn't have done it all without help. He has surrounded himself with talented people, another mark of a great leader. His succession plan has been praised, and he has patted himself on the back for that, too.
Utah Jazz chairman Greg Miller called it masterful the way he planned for Silver's promotion.
"I've been very impressed at their level of communication and at David's level of public support and verbally and otherwise, including his actions," Miller said.
Said Buss: "He picked someone and trained someone, and we all support Adam as the next commissioner. Adam has the skillset to develop this league."
Now, it's time for Stern to leave.
"I'll miss his sense of humor, his well-timed comment, his passion for this game," Buss said, "and his ability to pull the best out of this very, very competitive group of people."