Some Thoughts On David SternPosted on January 31, 2014 by Pasquale Prezioso
I've always thought being a commissioner of a major sports league was the closest a human will get to being Atlas, the famed figure from Greek mythology who held the Earth upon his back. After all, the commissioner has to keep the owners' satisfied with the status quo, the players happy with their slice of the pie, make sure the sponsors and the television networks keep giving the league tons of money, and deal with fans who insist that you're ruining the game they love, as well as holding a deep seated grudge against their beloved squad. It's almost all the stress of being President but without the Portuguese Water Dogs and cool jet.
Today marks the last day of David Stern's run as commissioner of the NBA. For most NBA fans, he's the only commissioner they've known. When Stern took the reins as head of the NBA in 1984, there were only 23 teams in the league with a combined worth of $400 million. The NBA was only three years removed from having four NBA Finals games shown on tape delay. There were only eight international players in the whole league, barely enough to form playoff rotation.
In 2014, thirty years since Stern took over, the landscape has changed dramatically. There are now 30 NBA teams, valued at $19 billion altogether. The NBA has billion dollar deals with Turner and ESPN, as well as their own channel, and there are more countries were you can watch an NBA game on TV then wins Wes Unseld had in his coaching career. (215 nations to 202 victories, by the way. If it makes you feel better Wes, the UN will never have an afro as awesome as yours.) And speaking of the UN, there were 92 players from 39 different countries on NBA rosters on opening night.
Now, is David Stern the only one to thank for this? Of course not. When Stern first took over in 1984, the NBA Finals that year was Magic's Lakers versus Bird's Celtics. The 1984 Draft procured Hakeem, Jordan, Barkley, and Stockton. He also had the gift of being the commissioner to Iverson, Shaq, Kobe, Ewing, Duncan, Nowitzki, Lebron and Durant. But I tend to think of Stern as the set designer to the superstars theatrical production. Stern and the set designer are unseen and never heard of, but both provide a fantastic background for the performance, whether it be "Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains", or Oakland, where Steph Curry has been making it rain. Point is, Stern and the set designer are support systems that make great things truly magnificent.
There's also some blemishes on Stern's record. Shaky refereeing, the 1999 and 2011 lockouts, the Lakers failed trade for Chris Paul, the departure of the Supersonics from Seattle, the prep-to-pros debate, and the accusations of a fixed draft lottery. Those are all regrets Stern will have to live with in his retirement. But I hold firm that he was by far the best commissioner in NBA history (not that hard as there have only been four NBA commissioners, but better then the alternative), but one of the finest in professional sports.
To illustrate why I feel so highly about him, let me tell you a story. One day during my travels in Italy in 2011, my family and I went to take a train to visit some relatives outside of Rome. Wanting something to attempt to read, I picked up a free newspaper. Naturally, I flipped to the sports section. There, on the front page, right up top, was a story on Kevin Durant saying how he might play overseas if the lockout continued, complete with a lead that loosely translated into "You might not have to put NBA 2K11 in your PS3 to see NBA superstar Kevin Durant play this season."
Now, I would easily expect to see something talking about Durant's overseas plans to be front page sports news in Oklahoma City or even here in D.C, but over four thousand miles away in Italy, where soccer is woven into the fabric of the country's culture in ways the NFL or baseball only dream of? That didn't happen overnight. That front page was the result of the commissionership of David Stern, both good and bad.(Can't have to think about lockout plans if there is no lockout, but I digress.)
So, for lending a strong hand to make a league whose championship series had to share TV time with Johnny Carson into an experience that has millions across the globe, from Addis Ababa to Zurich, craving Lebron's next rim crunching slam or John Wall's next what-in-the-name-of-God-Shammgod-was-that shot, this NBA fan has to thank David Stern for a job well done.
Over the last 6 games, Beal is averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists even with his minutes restriction.