As David Stern leaves Commissioner’s office the only comparison is Pete Rozelle

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When you watch the Super Bowl this weekend, you are watching a game and a league that is the legacy of Pete Rozelle. He not only oversaw the creation of the Super Bowl, he created Monday night football, he changed the marketing of the game, most importantly he pushed through congress a bill that legalized single-network contracts for pro sports leagues — the NFL could negotiate for all its teams, not have them work individually. That changed the finances of the league (and its owners). Rozelle laid out the blueprint for today’s NFL.

David Stern took that blueprint and expanded on it to create today’s NBA — for that Stern should go down as one of the two greatest professional sports commissioner ever. Rozelle is the only other guy on Stern’s level, and Stern built upon what Rozelle had done.

Stern steps down from his office Saturday after 30 years as NBA Commissioner. Adam Silver steps into his hard-to-fill shoes.

When you watch the NBA All-Star Game and the weekend of events Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans, know that was David Stern — the idea of having a dunk contest and other events around the game was something he pushed from the day he took over in 1984. Know that when you watch a mid-season nationally televised game Friday night — where highlight packages and conversation before and after the game happens on ESPN and other outlets — that was David Stern’s vision.

Stern certainly wasn’t perfect — he was a cult of personality that led to two destructive lockouts, plus he already had a foundation to change the league put in place by others when he stepped in the door in 1984. You can make the case that he is more Bill Gates than Steve Jobs — he didn’t create new and innovative things, he just better exploited the market for those things.

Still, the NBA is in a far better place now because of him.

Far, far better.

Stern eventually came to understand the NBA’s advantage was that you could see and know it’s athletes — Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan did not have their faces hidden by helmets. You could get to know them, their personalities. It may have taken the transcendence of Michael Jordan hitting him over the head to get him to see it, but Stern came to understand the value of marketing stars — where the NFL could sell teams, the NBA could promote personalities. Hand in hand with its sponsors.

Stern was handed those personalities on a silver platter, but he understood how to promote those personalities and the game. He and the NBA were light years ahead of other leagues on this.

Stern embraced cable television — and down the line the Internet — more quickly and more deftly than other leagues. He understood that it was good to broaden the reach of the league, and with that the reach of the sponsors.

It all worked. And Stern got to keep doing it — and had the unwavering support of the old-line owners — because he made them a lot of money.

When Stern took over 1984, league revenues were $165 million a year, they are now at $5.5 billion a year. Those increasing revenues trickled down the players — the average player salary in 1984 was $290,000, it is now $5.7 million. The main ingredient behind that growth was the national television deal, which in 1984 netted the league $28.5 million total and is now is $937 million (and about to go up under a new contract). The NBA became the international brand for the best level of basketball, popular in Europe and China and all around the globe.

When Stern took over the game was battling the image of being a league where most of the players were using hard drugs — drug testing was already in place when Stern stepped in, but he and his staff worked hard to change that image. Same with the notion that the NBA was a “black” league that white America didn’t watch. The numbers showed that wasn’t true, especially as the NBA’s brightest stars became some of the biggest in sports, yet Stern had to work to overcome that with networks and sponsors.

Stern had been handed some ready-made stars to help change the league’s image in Magic and Bird — a natural rivalry of cities and styles — but he put in place the infrastructure the league needed to take advantage of their opportunities. That grew with Jordan. Soon companies that wanted nothing to do with the NBA before – Gatorade, Coca-Cola, etc. — were on board.

Stern’s legacy is not a simple one, not a clean one. Often unnoticed was that Larry O’Brien and Larry Fleisher did the hard work of laying the foundation for Stern. Critics can and do point to the NBA’s two lockouts under Stern, which not only hurt the reputation of the league (but ended with the owners making a larger cut of the league’s money) but also altered the lives of people who count on the NBA for their livelihood — people who sell concessions at games, who own the bar across the street from the arena, who get paid low wages as it is to clean up the arena after the fans leave and now had fewer days to work. All of that would be right.

For better or worse — and it is mostly better — the NBA today is made in the image of David Stern. And in that image the NBA has grown from a league where its finals were shown on Saturday afternoons or during the week tape-delayed to be shown after the prime-time shows and local nightly news, into one of the biggest sports in the world.

Now every NBA playoff game is broadcast on national television and the Finals are a ratings bonanza (especially when the biggest stars are part of it). It makes everyone a lot of money.

That’s David Stern’s real legacy.

The only other commissioner who changed his sport that like that was Pete Rozelle. Stern built on what he did, and the game will not be quite the same without him.

Kobe Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor now worth estimated $200 million

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And the rich get richer.

Kobe Bryant is a smart man who studies whatever he does. He was that way on the court, breaking down film on opponents and knowing what was coming next, being one step ahead. He’s done the same in his post-NBA life, which is in part how he won an Oscar.  He is calculated.

The same with his investments. Before he stopped playing, he invested in a new sports drink called BodyArmor. (Did you notice the last couple years of his career he always took down or at least turned the label away of NBA sponsor Gatorade when he sat at a podium to speak?) This week, his investment in that company paid off big time, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola announced it had purchased a minority stake in sports drink BodyArmor.

Bryant made his first investment in the brand, for roughly 10 percent of the company, in March 2014, putting in roughly $6 million over time. Based on the valuation of the Coca-Cola deal, his stake is now worth approximately $200 million, sources told ESPN.

At least where I shop, BodyArmor — marketed as a healthier alternative to the other sports drinks — is showing up in the same spaces as Gatorade, Powerade, and the rest. It’s got a growing market share, with more than $400 million in sales expected this year.

I guess Kobe can afford college for his daughters now. Although, he may have already had that covered.

Check out Trae Young, Carmelo Anthony getting buckets at ‘Black Ops’ run in NYC

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Chris Brickley runs one of the best, most star-studded NBA summer runs anywhere in the nation out of his facility in New York. (You can learn more about him and what he does in the video above.)

Right now, Carmelo Anthony and Trae Young are among the names there — and they are getting buckets. Check out some videos.

“They’re all competitive, they got to the NBA because they’re competitive athletes. It’s the off-season, so you might as well, if you can, play against some elite talent, they do it…” Brickley told NBC Sports earlier this summer. “It’s personal. Certain guys have certain rivalries against other guys, whether they are superstars or not superstars, so when it’s time and that other player is guarding them, they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. There’s 10-15 other NBA players in there.”

‘Melo and Young look good in these clips. Granted, this is summer run and no matter the level it has to come with a grain of salt — these are not NBA defenses and systems. It’s still summer ball. But if you’re a Hawks or Rockets fan (or a fan of Miles Bridges, or Mo Bamba, or some other NBA guys) you have to like what you see.

Some fans decided to go after Anthony in the comments on some of these videos, and he gave it right back (NSFW language):

For the record, if you feel the need to insult an NBA player in the comments of an Instagram feed of some summer run, you may want to step back and examine where things went sideways in your life.

DeMar DeRozan already has a mural in San Antonio

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This is far less likely to be vandalized by Kobe fans

DeMar DeRozan has yet to suit up for a game in San Antonio, but he’s already been welcomed by a local artist with an impressive mural.

DeRozan was committed to Toronto like no other star before him, he was understandably frustrated when he got traded. However, he is going to love the welcoming reception in San Antonio, both from the passionate fan base and Gregg Popovich. DeRozan is going to get more chances in motion and not just having to create for himself, and that will be a good thing.

The Spurs won 47 games last season without Kawhi Leonard and now add an All-NBA player in DeRozan. Do not sleep on them in the West.

 

Stephen Curry explains trash talk with LeBron James at end of 2018 Finals Game 1

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LeBron James had been a dominant force in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but he was a frustrated man at the end after the legendary J.R. Smith blunder at the end of regulation, and the fact the Cavaliers still had a timeout at that point. Rarely does an NBA Finals feel over after one game, but LeBron had been brilliant and pushed that Cavaliers team as far as he could, and they still lost in overtime. It was crushing.

LeBron showed his frustration at the end of OT (the video is above). With the Warriors up double digits and just :30 seconds left in the extra period, Stephen Curry went in for a layup at the end of the shot clock and LeBron slid over and skied blocked it. Then the trash talk ensued — between Curry and LeBron, then with Klay Thompson stepping in and jawing at LeBron.

What went down? Curry talked about it on The Bill Simmons Podcast (as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It was an interesting moment …I was hot because I was trying to finish out a possession, I think it was less than a minute left, I didn’t see him coming over from the weak side so I tried to do a little soft scoop layup and he pinned it. Then he stared me down and he said something to me.

“And I was like, ‘That’s what we’re really on right now? We’re about to win and you’re worried about mean-blocking my shot and talking trash?’ And then the whole Tristan (Thompson) and Draymond (Green) thing happened and I went back up to him and I was like, ‘Yo, what’s up? Is this really what we’re about right now?’

“And he was like, ‘I gotta do that to make sure my teammates know I’m a mentor’ and it’s a part of his leadership and that type of deal. And I was like, ‘I don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb for your leadership.’ (laughter). Come on man, that’s messed up.”

There was nothing wrong with what LeBron did — the clock was running, the game was still on, and he made a play. Doesn’t matter if the game was decided, Curry decided to take a shot and LeBron stopped it. And LeBron was frustrated, so he talked a little.

Now, LeBron’s in the West with the Lakers. Last season Steve Kerr talked more than once about the challenge of keeping the Warriors focused, motivated, and building good habits during the grind of the regular season. You think LeBron in the Warriors’ division might help with that a little this season?