5 decisions by late NBA Commissioner David Stern which changed the NBA for better

NBA Commissioner David Stern addresses the media during the 2013 Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs
NBA Commissioner David Stern addresses the media during the 2013 Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs
Modified 25 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

Former NBA commissioner David Stern passed away in January last year. All thirty teams wore black bands on matchdays during the 2019–20 season, paying their respects to the ultimate boss of basketball. A towering figure in major league sports, Stern helped shape the league into its modern-day avatar.

During his reign, the league broke barriers and reached new heights as a booming business, while also making strides in societal issues. Stern's contributions have empowered the NBA to span its influence beyond borders, transforming the league into the global behemoth we see today.

5 decisions by late NBA Commissioner David Stern which changed the NBA for good

Known to many as the 'Commish', Stern positioned basketball on the international stage as a true showman. He was the mastermind behind the 'Dream Team' ensemble that took the sporting world by storm.

Despite his tenure marking some of the most famous controversies in league history, David Stern is nevertheless admired and respected by NBA stars and fans alike. Shaking his hand on NBA Draft Day meant a prospect entered the league as a professional basketball player. On the other hand, shaking his hands at the end of the season put the seal on a team's status as world champions.

In this article, we will look at five decisions taken by David Stern which changed the NBA for good in his thirty-year tenure as commissioner.

#1 Launching the WNBA

Candace Parker #3 of the Los Angeles Sparks drives around forward Gabby Williams #15 of the Chicago Sky
Candace Parker #3 of the Los Angeles Sparks drives around forward Gabby Williams #15 of the Chicago Sky

David Stern pioneered the WNBA into one of the most recognizable women's professional sporting leagues on the face of the earth. Before 1997, female basketball players in the US did not have a platform to play as professionals.

Fast forward to 2021, and a whole generation of female basketball players now dream of becoming the next Candace Parker or Tamika Catchings. There aren't many women's sporting leagues that come close to the WNBA's hard-won stature.

Stern has done well in keeping the WNBA afloat by supporting the league with resources from the NBA. In doing so, he made sure they would survive the tough times before turning a corner. The WNBA has secured its place as the top destination for domestic and international women players. That said, the pandemic has caused some turbulence for returning foreign players in the 2020-21 season.

#2 Multimedia Expansion to garner more eyeballs

Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks
Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks

It is almost unbelievable today, but the 1986 NBA Finals were aired on tape delay. Then-new commissioner David Stern understood the situation was untenable and decided to shake things up. He started by making deals with several TV networks to double the reach of the league. With Stern at the helm, the NBA was a leader among all major league sports in adapting to the changing times.

The association has made strides by making game highlights available online, ignoring copyright laws that other leagues still hold dear to this day. Stern also launched the League Pass, which has become the new norm for avid basketball fans.

These days, one can watch games online from their mobiles, laptops, and TV any time of day or night. The League Pass has virtually opened the floodgates for basketball content to be consumed by fans universally, expanding the league's reach further.

#3 Adding new teams during his tenure as commissioner

A general view of the draft stage
A general view of the draft stage

When David Stern took over as commissioner in 1984, several franchisees were dealing with financial constraints due to low revenues. The NBA was not as popular as today, and a change was needed. One of the moves made by Stern, the visionary leader, was to expand the NBA by adding more teams. He thought the game would benefit from more players and stakeholders, and indeed, it did.

Towards the end of the 1980s, fans witnessed the 88' NBA Expansion Draft where newly formed teams like Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat could acquire players for the 1988–89 season. The league then went on to add the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic to its ranks. In 95' the expansion continued with the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joining the NBA family, while the Charlotte Bobcats were inducted in 2004.

Fast forward to 2021, and reigning NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is planning to extend the league further by adding new teams to the mix in the future.

#4 Transforming the NBA into a global force

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

NBA basketball has left behind other major league sports in the dust in terms of its global presence. One can easily find fans donning jerseys of their favorite basketball players in every corner of the world. David Stern spearheaded the long-term strategy to take the game to a worldwide scale back in the 1980s, and modern-day executives are reaping the benefits today.

The NBA has showcased its brand of basketball around the world by playing preseason games overseas. The exhibition games have been immensely successful in drawing new eyeballs. These days, the NBA reaches over 200 countries in 47 languages through TV broadcasts, computers, and mobile phones.

At the start of the 2020-21 season, the league announced a whopping 107 international players from 41 countries spread across thirty teams, with at least one foreign player on every roster. Moreover, some of the marquee names in the game today hail from across the seas, the likes of 2x MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and new sensation Luka Doncic, to name a few.

#5 Led the NBA in philanthropic initiatives

David Stern is hugged by Earvin
David Stern is hugged by Earvin 'Magic' Johnson during the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

David Stern will go down as the best commissioner in all major league sports for his benevolent initiatives that went beyond the game itself. Under Stern, the NBA launched the NBA/WNBA Cares programs, where employees engaged in philanthropic endeavors. Several programs like NBA FIT, NBA, and WNBA Community Assist Awards and NBA Voices have become staples of the league's culture at large.

On the international stage, the association has its Basketball Without Borders program. In it, basketball enthusiasts abroad get to learn from former and present NBA players and coaches. Over the years, the league has provided millions of hours' worth of service through its initiatives. David Stern was the man behind the scenes for the most part until 2014 when he handed over the keys to Adam Silver.

Finally, the league has continued to be a leader in diversity. While their counterparts continue in their old ways, the NBA has ushered in an era of change. Basketball stars have stood up for causes, shining a light on important issues through their platforms. The league has also made strides with women joining its ranks, from broadcasting to coaching, and as referees.

Published 25 Apr 2021
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