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David Stern, Transformative N.B.A. Leader, Dies at 77

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David Stern, Transformative N.B.A. Leader, Dies at 77

David Stern, who for 30 years as commissioner of the National Basketball Association has planned his transformation from an endangered league to a multi-billion dollar industry and the first American sports league to thrive internationally, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 77 years old.

His death was announced in a statement from NB.A. He suffered a brain hemorrhage on December 12 and underwent emergency surgery.

Fourth NBA commissioner, serving from February 1, 1984 to February 1, 2014, Stern intimidated many with his dominating ways, but also had a vision and marketing instinct that helped elevate the league from the darkest period to the new. levels of prosperity – and popularity – both domestically and abroad. N.B.A. The stars were the first in North America to gain global notoriety, like their soccer counterparts, with the biggest names becoming familiar even in the remotest regions of the world.

The N.B.A. he was behind the National Football League and Major League Baseball, both in revenue and television profile, when Stern took over. But when he left office – having overtaken NF.L.'s Pete Rozelle. as the oldest commissioner in the history of North America's top team sports – he had overseen the endangered fears league's growth in the late 1970s to a $ 5 billion company. Television revenue increased more than 40 times during this period, crossing the $ 1 billion limit.

He was very successful in focusing on the biggest names in the NBA – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley – understanding that they gave the sport its worldwide appeal. Stern's mandate practically began with the launch of the Jordanian era; 1984 N.B.A. Draft, with Jordan and Barkley among his famous players, was done shortly after the work began.

In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, Stern said one of his fondest memories was to see these stars come together to form the victorious men's basketball team at the 1992 Olympics in the United States – known around the world as the "Dream Team". For a league that faced tough times not many years earlier, he said, it was thrilling to see them "being celebrated as a combination of the Bolshoi, the Philharmonic and the Beatles" on their march to the gold medal.

Seven new franchises were introduced during Stern's tenure, including two in Canada in 1995: the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies. The league, headed by new stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, reached 30 teams in 2004 with the arrival of Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets). Other Stern innovations included the creation of N.B.A. 1997, and the NBA Development League, known as the G League, in 2001.

In 1985, Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Chicago Bulls for $ 16 million. In 2014, shortly after Stern's departure, Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $ 2 billion. And as franchise values ​​increased during Stern's administration, so did player salaries.

"I think people see all the money in sports and think it's always been that way," said Charles Barkley, now a television analyst at Turner Sports, recently on Inside the N.B.A. “When I arrived at N.B.A. In 1984, which was the commissioner's first year, the average salary was $ 250,000. It's almost $ 9 million now. And he is largely responsible for that. "

When Mr. Stern ceded his title to Adam Silver in 2014, N.B.A. It has opened offices in 15 cities outside the United States and has signed agreements to televise games in more than 200 countries in more than 40 languages.

The effects of this international growth were evident on this season's opening night, when 108 players from 38 countries and territories populated NB.A. lists. It was the sixth consecutive season that the league had at least 100 international players.

Stern's success came from a relentless focus and practicality that he learned from working weekend shifts at his father's Manhattan deli. However, he gained his share of criticism along the way for what some saw as a dictatorial way; he was prone to shouting at N.B.A. officials, team officials, league partners, and reporters.

David Joel Stern was born on September 22, 1942 in Manhattan, son of William and Anna Stern. His father drove the Stern's Deli in Chelsea. David grew up in Teaneck, NJ, and graduated from Rutgers University in 1963 before attending Columbia Law School.

Your affiliation with N.B.A. It began in 1966 when, as a recent law graduate, he was hired by Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, the leading New York law firm representing NB.A.

Among the cases in which Mr. Stern worked was a historic antitrust case filed against the league by Hall of Famer guard Oscar Robertson in 1970. Robertson attempted to block a proposed merger with the American Basketball Association and to ban the so-called clause. option, which players are tied for their teams. The process ended in 1976 with an agreement that allowed NB.A. to expand by adding the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the American Basketball Association's New York Nets – but only after allowing NB.A. players become free agents for the first time.

Stern grew up a fan of the Knicks and played games at Madison Square Garden with his father. "Although they didn't have a good track record, they were my Knicks," he told The Times in 1983.

He played the sport briefly as an adult, saying he was "without most of the cartilage on my right knee to play basketball with my company team in the New York Bar."

Professional basketball seemed to be in decline when Mr. Stern joined N.B.A. in 1978 as General Counsel to Commissioner Larry O'Brien. The league was becoming irrelevant – seven NBA final games from 1979 to 1981 were relegated to CBS late-tape broadcasts that began at 11:30 pm. Eastern Time

The league suffered more damage to its image after a Los Angeles Times report in August 1980 estimated that 40 to 75 percent of its players used cocaine. In the 1980-81 season that followed, 16 of the 23 teams would have lost money.

Stern, elevated to executive vice president in November 1980, negotiated a drug testing policy in 1983, making NB.A. the first major sports league in North America to implement one. As soon as he became Commissioner, the N.B.A. It sought to help disadvantaged small-market franchises by adopting a salary cap of $ 3.6 million per team for the 1984-85 season (about $ 9 million in today's money).

These measures helped the N.B.A. regain stability as a company, enough to capitalize on the revival of Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry over the 1980s – fueled by Bird and Johnson – and Jordan's spectacular rise to six championships with the Chicago Bulls in the United States. 90's.

Stern found his true niche in the game under O'Brien, who put him in charge of marketing, television and public relations, as well as business and legal affairs. When Stern stepped away from daily league operations, Silver called him "one of the founders of modern sports marketing."

"When I first came to the league in the early 1990s, leagues were not considered brands the way they are now," Silver told reporters in 2014. Stern, he said, was one of the first "to modernize" cutting-edge marketing practices. , whatever the technology of the time, and apply it to sports leagues. "

Perhaps nothing made Stern more proud than the league's role in supporting Magic Johnson after he announced on November 7, 1991 that he had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In your N.B.A. The office displayed a photograph of Mr. Stern presenting Johnson the Most Valuable Player trophy at the 1992 All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida, just a few months after Johnson announced he had the virus and retired as a player (though more later return for a season).

Stern supported Johnson's desire to play the game as the star contender, amid a setback in some corners of his participation and despite the fact that he is no longer an active player. Johnson's presence turned the league's All-Star Weekend that year into a virtual convention for H.I.V. and AIDS awareness.

"It kind of helped us start firming our view that there was something about sports that resonated with people," Stern told ESPN in 2014. "We could make changes," he said.

Johnson told sports writer Jackie MacMullan that without Mr. Stern, "I wouldn't be here today."

"He gave me back my life," Johnson said.

Stern has not had a shortage of detractors and opponents over the years. He may have labeled himself "Dave Easy" for the media during the 1994 labor talks, but behind closed doors he was known for his temperament and an approach that some considered tyrannical at times.

During the 2005-6 season, he was widely questioned after instituting a dress code for players before and after games that some considered racist. Philadelphia 76ers star guard Allen Iverson described the policy as "targeting guys who dress like me – guys who dress in hip hop."

Entering the 2006-7 season, Stern endorsed the introduction of a new microfiber basketball that was so badly received by players that the NBA abruptly returned to the traditional leather ball on January 1, 2007.

Soon after, Stern was dealing with one of the toughest challenges of his stewardship when an FBI. The investigation revealed that referee Tim Donaghy had bet on games in which he had officiated. Stern also remained an outcast in Seattle for his role in allowing SuperSonics to move to Oklahoma City after the 2007-8 season.

Some punishments that Mr. Stern …

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