LeBron James reflects on David Stern: ‘I think we lost a great visionary’

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David Stern’s legacy is not a simple thing to characterize.

Stern died Sunday at the age of 77, and there were tributes to him from all corners of the NBA world. He loved basketball and the NBA, and he grew the league exponentially in his 30 years as NBA Commissioner. He helped make the owners and players a lot of money, which is one key reason he is so well respected. Stern also had an “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach to running the league — sometimes without the glove — and he made plenty of mistakes throughout his tenure.

However, his heart was in the right place, and that’s what LeBron James talked about on Wednesday night, when he was asked about Stern after the Lakers win against Phoenix.

“I think we lost a great visionary. I think him and Dr. James Naismith is two of the most important people in the history of basketball…” LeBron said, comparing Stern to the inventor of the sport.

“David, his vision to make this game global. Don’t know how many people believed in that with him, said it was something that couldn’t be done, but he made this game global. This game is watched in more than 200, 250 countries around the world. You look at the collective group of players, we’ve got the Giannises, the Dirks, the Manu’s, the Lukas, and so on and so on, and you’ve got to give him so much credit because of that. He saw the game being so much greater than just domestically.”

LeBron, like many other players, said that getting to walk on the stage on the night of the NBA Draft and shake Stern’s hand was something he would never forget.

“For me personally, it was a dream come true to step up on that stage and shake David’s hand,” LeBron said.

He was then asked what Stern told him on the stage.

“He did tell me something, in the back, when all the rookies was in the back, he told me he wanted to wear my suit one day,” LeBron said with a laugh. “I won’t forget that. He told me in the back, ‘You think I can borrow that suit one day?’ I do remember that.”

LeBron and Stern had their battles, particularly around the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That is where the mutual respect came in, LeBron added.

“We had our battles, that’s for sure, trying to figure it out,” LeBron said. “But also at the end of the day we understood that we wanted to do whatever it takes to grow the game, and that was the one common goal from both sides. Even though we had our differences at times at the round table it was one thing, we all left that room saying ‘how can we continue to grow the game and expand the game?’”