When David Stern announced he was stepping down as commissioner in 15 months on Thursday, he tried, or at least feigned trying, not to reminisce on his time as commissioner.
But Stern also likes to talk.
And so he did at a press conference about the NBA Board of Governors meeting that became about Stern retiring. He was asked what the best and worst times of his to be 30 years as NBA commissioner were.
“The best is a long list of things, it’s hard to even pick,” Stern said, before going on to pick. “That our Olympic team in 1992 was able to show the world how great our players were, despite some previous questions about our players and their place of the world. To me that was a high point but it just keeps getting better than that.
“The low point… I haven’t enjoyed the responsibility of having to end careers, which I haven’t had to do recently, with respect to drug use and the like many years ago. One of my preseason phone calls each year, this year was from Michael Ray (Richardson), who is up and coaching again in Ontario, Canada. That wasn’t a great situation for me personally.
“But for the most part it’s been a series of extraordinary experiences and enormous putting together of pieces of a puzzle. And it goes on forever. And there will always be another piece of the puzzle, and so the question is ‘at what point do you decide to let somebody else do it?’ And that’s the point it is at now.”
That 1992 Olympic team started to spread the NBA gospel overseas, and that international growth has become a passion of Sterns (something the owners like as it pads their pocketbooks). Without the Dream Team the internationalization of the NBA would have been slower.
Stern banned several players from the game for drug use — Michael Ray Richardson, Roy Tarpley, Richard Dumas, and most recently Chris Andersen (but he also was later reinstated), among others.
Stern’s legacy, which will get hashed out here and everywhere over the next 15 months, is generally positive but far from perfect. There were two lockouts and if you think Stern did no wrong you should go ask the people of Seattle. But in terms of marketing, he got it, he saw the NBA as a star-driven league and expertly rode the wave of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and then Michael Jordan to new heights.
It slipped after Jordan finally retired and may be tough to get back there, but Stern is leaving Adam Silver a league with the potential to return to those days. With marketable stars and a prominent place in the culture. We’ll see what Silver can do with that .