NEW YORK (AP) — David Stern hasn’t left the NBA far behind. Just a few blocks, actually.
His office these days is located in a building near the one he had as commissioner, the job he left in 2014 after 30 years in which he helped turn a struggling league into a $5 billion annual behemoth.
For the most part, he likes the direction of the league the last three years.
“In addition to the talent, I’m in awe of the shooting skills of Steph Curry, of Klay Thompson, of a (Russell) Westbrook and a (James) Harden, et cetera,” Stern told The Associated Press by phone. “But I’m also in awe of the potential the league has both digitally and globally. So the game is strong, the attendance is at a record, the future is extraordinary internationally and the league is a leader under Adam (Silver) in the digital sphere.
“So it’s really a wonderful opportunity for the owners, for the players, and for my former colleagues at the team and league level.”
Stern, as would be expected, is keenly aware that it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Silver and the league. The NBA is still searching for solutions to some problems that were vexing under Stern, such as tanking and healthy players sitting out games.
He talks with Silver, but won’t comment on their discussions about those issues or anything else.
“That would involve the commissioner slash commissioner emeritus privilege,” he said.
Stern, 74, is more businessman than sportsman now, advising venture capital firms from his position atop DJS Global Advisors and investing in a number of startups, some of them in sports technology. He still watches plenty of games, and the viewing process helps guide his investment strategies.
The league that once begged for a television presence – the NBA Finals that were sometimes shown on tape delay into the early 1980s – now has national TV deals that are worth more than $2.6 billion annually. But fans aren’t just watching games on TV anymore, and Stern believes their viewing habits will change even more in the coming years.
“The fans are going to want to see be able to see what they want to see, when they want to see it and on any device they want to see it on,” he said.
Stern believes viewers will favor streaming services and virtual reality, with output from wearable technology to provide statistical data to augment what they’re watching. So this week he and a group of partners that includes Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim announced the launch of SportsCastr.Live , a streaming platform that allows users to be color commentators and to select which sportscaster they wish to have call, recap or make predictions on a game.
That adds to previous investments that include ShotTracker, in which sensors send real-time data to coaches’ smart devices, and LiveLike, a virtual reality platform to watch sports.
“The key catchword is personalization,” Stern said. “So I’m going to want to watch the visiting feed in virtual reality, which the NBA has one game a week now, with real-time stats that are going to be on my smart device because ShotTracker is going to bring it to me.”
That sounds like it would be a good fit for his new lifestyle.
The businessman doesn’t miss being basketball’s biggest decision maker, a job he held from Feb. 1, 1984 – a few months before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird first met in the NBA Finals and Michael Jordan was drafted – until Silver, his former assistant – took over. But when he stepped down as commissioner, he refused to let staffers call his departure a “retirement” as he prepared to move out of his former home just off Fifth Avenue.
Stern still takes some trips overseas on the NBA’s behalf.
“I’m as busy as ever, but not at night,” Stern said. “Nobody calls, nobody goes into the stands, nobody goes after their coach, nobody bumps an official. My life has been purified.”
“I haven’t cut down on vacation,” he added. “I think I’ve increased them and I love being busy and I love that my work brings me in contact with the sport that I’m such a huge fan of and that I have devoted so much of my life.”