By Michael Cunningham
David Stern’s time as NBA commissioner will soon come to an end so it seemed an appropriate time for him to talk about his legacy as NBA commissioner.
But Stern, 70, said he’s not a big believer in the “‘L’ word.,” though he wasn’t modest about his resume.
“I just want people to say that he steered the good ship NBA through all kinds of interesting times, some choppy waters, some extraordinary opportunities and … on his watch, the league grew in popularity, became a global phenomenon, and the owners and the players and the fans did very well,” Stern said during a teleconference.
Stern informed the league’s owners Thursday that he will step down as commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years after he was hired. The league has experienced several highs and lows on his watch but by nearly all measures is healthier than when he got the job.
The game has grown in popularity and global reach since Stern became commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. Back then the league was simply trying to gain a foothold as one of the popular sports leagues in the U.S.
Now the NBA is popular enough that one of the main priorities for Stern’s successor, Adam Silver, is to continue to expand its international footprint. At the request of the league’s board of governors Stern will remain available to help with that effort after his tenure as commissioner ends.
Silver, 50, has been deputy commissioner since July 2006. Stern has groomed him to take over the job and the board of governors unanimously decided to negotiate a contract with Silver. The approval of the contract next April is expected to be a formality.
“I’m enormously honored and thrilled, and appreciate the transition period that David is providing me,” said Silver, who has been an NBA executive for 20 years. “ So I’ll have the next 15 months for yet even more on-the-job training working directly with David.”
When Stern succeeded Larry O’Brien as commissioner, the NBA wasn’t far removed from having its weekday finals games broadcast on network tape delay. Nearly 30 years later, the the Heat-Thunder finals last spring set viewership records for ABC.
The NBA remained popular in spite of a lockout that forced the league to play a truncated, 66-game schedule in 2011-12. That was the second lockout on Stern’s watch, following a 1998 labor impasse that cost the league 32 games.
Other low points during Stern’s tenure have included a referee gambling scandal, a handful of players banned or suspended for drug use and the brawl between players and fans at the Pistons’ arena.
But, on balance, there’s been more good news than bad for the NBA during Stern’s time as commissioner.
Stern said the new labor agreement, which either side can opt out of after the 2016-17 season, has led to shorter contracts for players and what he eventually believes will be more competitive balance among teams. The league this month played seven exhibition games in six international cities and recently opened offices in Brazil and India.
Stern said the league is in “terrific” shape with season-ticket renewals for this season at a record 86 percent and extensive sponsorship agreements.
“For the most part it has been a series of extraordinary experiences, and enormous putting together of pieces of a puzzle, and it goes on for forever,” Stern said. “There will always be another piece of the puzzle, so the question is, at what point do you decide that, you know, let somebody else do it?”