PHILADELPHIA (CBS/CNN) — David Stern, the former NBA commissioner who reshaped the league and presided over its skyrocketing growth for three decades, has died, the league said Wednesday. He was 77.
Stern died as a result of the brain hemorrhage he suffered approximately three weeks ago. His wife, Dianne, and their family were with him at his bedside, the NBA said.
The Sixers and the rest of the basketball world quickly offered their condolences. The Sixers released the following statement on Wednesday afternoon.
“The Philadelphia 76ers organization mourns the passing of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern. Mr. Stern helped revolutionize the game of basketball on and off the court. His leadership and innovative approach propelled the NBA to unprecedented growth, benefiting teams, players and fans alike.
He also helped mentor and develop hundreds of the industry’s leading executives, many of whom we are fortunate to now have as part of the Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment family.
Mr. Stern’s impact on the NBA and landscape of sports cannot be understated, and his energy, passion and competitive spirit will be greatly missed.
We offer our sincere condolences to his wife Dianne, their children and family.”
Ben Simmons, a native of Australia, thanked Stern for his contributions in building basketball as a global sport.
RIP David Stern, a trail blazer in making the NBA truly a global sport. We can’t thank you enough. Condolences to the Stern Family 🙏🏽
— Ben Simmons (@BenSimmons25) January 1, 2020
RIP Commissioner Stern, very sad to hear the news. You did great things for the game of basketball. Someone I always admired. #NBAFamily
— Al Horford (@Al_Horford) January 1, 2020
Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright tweeted his condolences for the “visionary leader.”
Rest In Peace David Stern . A visionary leader with a lasting impact on basketball and the world . https://t.co/B2x9ecoz74
— Jay Wright (@VUCoachJWright) January 1, 2020
On December 12, the NBA said Stern had suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage that required emergency surgery. His son, Eric, told CNN days later that his father had not been conscious since the incident and was on a breathing tube.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver remembered Stern as a mentor, a dear friend and “one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”
“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation,” Silver said in a statement.
“Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.”
The NBA wouldn’t be the league it is today without Stern. During his 30-year tenure as the league’s commissioner, Stern led a major franchise expansion and helped globalize the game, turning it into a multibillion business.
He also oversaw the creation of the Women’s National Basketball Association and the NBA Development League.
“Super sorry to hear the passing of David Stern. He gave us @WNBA a chance when no one else would. #RIPdavidstern,” Dawn Staley, University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach and American basketball Hall of Fame player, tweeted about Stern’s death.
From lawyer to NBA leader
After graduating from Columbia Law School, the New York native became a skilled negotiator working in the litigation department of law firm Proskauer Rose. His involvement with the NBA began when he worked as outside counsel for cases involving the league in 1966.
He became the organization’s first general counsel in 1978 and was later promoted to executive vice president in charge of legal and business affairs before becoming the fourth NBA commissioner, replacing Larry O’Brien.
When Stern took his post as commissioner in 1984, television revenues were low and several franchises were in financial turmoil. But he quickly rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
Over the next 30 years until his retirement in 2014, the player’s salary cap grew from $3.6 million to just under $59 million, according to Forbes.
While television revenues jumped from around $22 million to about $930 million, and franchise values from $400 million in 1984 to $19 billion when Stern retired, the magazine reported.
He turned the league into a global phenomenon
The league took off globally under Stern’s tenure, becoming the first professional sports league to play regular-season games outside the US. Then NBA players were allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time with Stern’s blessing.
In 1992, the “Dream Team” — comprising a coterie of NBA legends, including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Michael Jordan — claimed to the gold medal.
Many, like former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, saw Stern as a visionary.
“In 1994, he envisioned all that’s going on now. Europe, China, big TV contracts, free agency, guys being able to pick and control where they go,” O’Neal said on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” following the news of Stern’s hospitalization in December 2019.
Another big part of Stern’s strategy was marketing the league’s superstars and making them global icons. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird leading the charge in the ’80s, then Jordan in the ’90s and extending well into the 2000s with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Six-time NBA champion and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan said Stern was key to his success and the league would not be what it is today without him.
“He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before,” Jordan said in a statement. “His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him — and I admired him for that. I wouldn’t be where I am without him. I offer my deepest sympathies to Dianne and his family.”
“David Stern made probably a bigger impact on the game than any non-player in the history of the NBA,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in a video posted Wednesday. “David Stern really led the expansion of the league. He had the vision to set the league on course where it is today.”
His ability to adapt and grow translated into the development of NBA.com and the league’s television and production company.
But it didn’t come without some growing pains and challenges.
Stern presided over four player lockouts and angered some players with tough disciplinary decisions and the adoption of an unpopular sideline dress code.
When Johnson announced he was retiring from the NBA and that he was HIV-positive in 1997, Stern stood close. Months later, he supported Johnson’s return to the league.
For Stern, it was a chance to educate fans on issues beyond the court.
“By virtue of that announcement, and the league’s standing behind him and assisting communications efforts about the disease, we taught the world not to be afraid of people who are HIV positive. That was a seminal moment for me,” he said in an interview with Columbia Law School in 2017.
In the years since he passed the reigns over to now-NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Stern became a senior adviser for the NBA, venture capital firm Greycroft Partners and investment bank PJT Partners, among other accomplishments.
Stern was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2014 and the International Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
(©Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)