NBA Commissioner David Stern Reflects on a Storied Career

Benjamin J. Block@BenjaminBlock21Correspondent IIJanuary 20, 2017

Dec 5, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; NBA commissioner David Stern on the court before a game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Los Angeles Lakers at the New Orleans Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There were no unruly fans heckling, no bombarding questions about whether Sacramento keeps their beloved Kings or if basketball will return to Seattle—David Stern let his hair down Thursday night at Manhattan's Upper East Side 92nd Street Y and reminisced about his 30-year tenure as commissioner of the NBA

Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek Josh Tyrangiel moderated the chat with Stern, and Tyrangiel carefully navigated the commissioner from 1978 to modern day.

The safe confines of Buttenwieser Hall allowed NBA fans a chance to get inside the head of the man who inherited a league worth $140 million in 1983 and built it to $5 billion today. 

The 70-year-old Stern gave a great behind-the-scenes understanding of what he dealt with, and what he has accomplished over the past three-plus decades.

February 2014 will mark his 30th year as commissioner, but he will have been involved with the NBA for 36 years, as he joined the league as its general counsel in 1978.

Stern candidly divulged that he initially took the legal role with the league back then with no vision in mind other than he simply loved basketball and loved to practice law.

He can laugh about it now, but Stern remembers when the NBA broadcast on CBS just three times in 1983, and how its first television contract was in the neighborhood of $400,000.

Stern has also been commissioner long enough to see style trends change from afros to cornrows to tattoos, but his greatest legacy may be his embrace of globalization.

This is best illustrated with the 125 or so games that the NBA has played outside the United States as of today.

The reflective chat wouldn't have been complete without the pressing issue of "superteams" in the NBA coming up, but it's nothing new according to Stern, and he doesn't see the problem with them:

We've always had them, and superteams are a result of good management and should be rewarded. What harms the league are teams that are perpetually non-competitive.

The toughest questions for the commissioner, however, may have been when an audience member asked, "what will you do on your first day off the job, and what would be your dream job?"

With a wry smile, Stern replied "I told my wife I'll go do the grocery shopping."

As for his dream job, Stern teased the crowd saying that he would love to enact legislation without having to wait on the two houses of Congress.

Stern did say this with a hint of seriousness, but don't worry, he deflected any thoughts of running for next mayor of New York City.

Whatever the future has in store for him, Stern promises to always be linked to the game he loves and will continue to help grow it.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.