KEY POINTS

  • David Stern, the longest-serving commissioner of the NBA died on New Year’s Day
  • Stern is hailed for his leadership in transforming the ones struggling NBA to a profitable sports organization
  • Stern, 77, was a lawyer and an alumnus of Columbia Law School

David Stern, the longest-serving commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) died on New Year’s Day. Stern, who is hailed as one of the greatest sports commissioner, was 77.

Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage and was in the hospital for three weeks. His wife, Dianne, and family members were with him when he passed away. Stern served as NBA commissioner from 1984 to 2014.

In his 30-year tenure, Stern took the NBA to new heights by transforming the 23-team struggling basketball organization to a profitable 30-team enterprise whose revenue soared 30 times to a whopping $5 billion, CNBC noted.

Stern played a big role in boosting the attraction of the NBA by expanding the brand outside the United States through marketing efforts and television broadcasts in more than 200 countries.

NBA made a global brand 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recalled Stern’s contributions: “David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. Over 30 years, he ushered in the modern global NBA.” 

Silver’s statement gave credit to Stern for making NBA a truly global brand and saluted his role as one of the greatest sports commissioners.

"Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation," Stern said in a statement.

The tribute also noted every member of the NBA family is the “beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity, and inspiration.”

Born in New York on Sept. 22, 1942, Stern grew up in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey. He studied at Rutgers University and Columbia Law School. Stern’s association with NBA started with his stint at Proskauer Rose law firm, which represented the NBA.

Stern’s negotiating skills while working at Proskauer Rose helped him rise to the top echelon of the NBA. From an outside counsel for the NBA in 1966, Stern became its first general counsel in 1978. He became the fourth NBA commissioner and succeeded Larry O'Brien while working as executive vice president in charge of legal affairs.

Pioneer of many reforms

Stern is known for many path-breaking reforms including the creation of two new leagues, the Women’s National Basketball Association and the NBA Development League. 

Former NBA commissioner David Stern has died aged 77 Former NBA commissioner David Stern has died aged 77 Photo: AFP / Frederic J. BROWN

Stern also implemented the first dress code and first anti-drug agreement in professional sports. Salary caps and revenue sharing to the league were also significant initiatives by Stern.

“The entire basketball community is heartbroken. David Stern earned and deserved inclusion in our land of giants,” the National Basketball Players Association said in a statement.

Stern's tenure coincided with two all-time greats in basketball, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. 

While heading the NBA, Stern also faced labor strife leading to four lockouts in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2011. In the last two lockouts, regular seasons had to be cut short to 50 and 66 games.