by Kolby Solinsky
Editor, White Cover Magazine
I will admit, I don’t know much about David Stern. I’ve never met the man. I’m not aware of the general population’s most basic feeling of the guy – since he’s a commissioner of a major North American sports league, and that means he’s vilified for the smallest of infractions and demonized for every trade he puts through that favours the New Orleans Hornets.
I will say, however, that he has always appeared to be the only guy of the four who knows what he’s doing all the time. Roger Goodell dresses like a boss and he’s got the NFL, but he’s not what you would call a people person. Bud Selig not only looks like he’s dying, but there are rumours that he also has no soul. And, just saying the words “Gary Bettman” should render the fleshiest of all your reproductive organs unusable.
But, David Stern has always seemed like he was on a different plain.
That’s why, as expected as today’s news was — that the NBA’s Czar will retire in February, 2014 — it was still a little surprising and newsworthy.
“David Stern successfull sold the “blackest” sport to a white audience,” wrote ESPN’s J.A. Adande in what might be today’s best analysis of what Stern meant to his league. “He globalized basketball. He kept the NBA at the forefront of the technology wave. And yet, by the end of his 30-year tenure he had yielded the one thing he was best known for: control.”
“You go back and remember where the NBA was when he took over, and how dire things were in the 80’s,” said Marc Stein. “While there’s no doubt that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird get a lot of credit for the jolt that they gave the NBA, (Stern) oversaw this league’s revival.”
Maybe it’s the swag factor of the NBA. Maybe it’s the league’s history as — at first — a sub-culture phenomenon and later the worst of all the American leagues. (Hockey doesn’t count, obviously.) Maybe it’s that the most self-sufficient and independently gifted of the Council of Commissioners seemed to be tied with the least newsworthy league.
After all, basketball is gifted but often forgotten. It’s popular, no doubt, but it relies on its individual players and cities unlike any other. Football is driven by the billions. Baseball is continually wrapped up in its own records of rule-breaking and rule-making. Hockey, like I said, just doesn’t count.
Sure, he had his bad moments. Some he couldn’t control, like 2004’s Malace at the Palace or the death of Len Bias. Some he was rumoured to have controlled too much, like the 1985 Draft Lottery or any games refereed by corrupt Foot Locker employee Tim Donaghy.
But, what about the others? Stern was continually on a more progressive, decisive level than any of the other three big commissioners.
He got rid of the “Prep to Pro” thing in 2006, ensuring that the best players would at least get some time in college. He was commissioner over every NBA-led Olympic Games. He expanded the game internationally, allowing Argentinians, Slovaks, Spaniards, Frenchies, and Asian superstars to come to the NBA.
Stern was the commissioner through the greatest – and only – period of growth in NBA history.
“The NBA is arguably in its golden age with popularity and profitability at all-time highs,” wrote The Oakland Press on Thursday. “Players on average make $5 million, up from $250,000 when Stern took over, and television ratings and revenue are at all-time highs… revenue from television has increased 40 times during Stern’s run.”
The Oakland Press (via USA Today) also reported that the NBA is available in over 200 countries and 47 languages.
Baseball? (American) Football? Hockey?
David Stern was always that guy who always looked like he was at the Finals because he loved basketball. Basically, Stern was more connected to his game and its growth — and its style — then any of the others were connected to theirs. He was was much a product of the NBA as the NBA was a product of him, and he seemed to relate to his game unlike any other Boss out there.
He wasn’t worried about whether Pinky would pull the switch and he could take over the world. That was Brain, er, Gary Bettman.
He wasn’t worried about thins Bud Selig worried about. After all, Selig was born in 1765. I’m sure everything is put in a different perspective when you’re… that old.
And, Roger Goodell. He’s new, and he’s already botched this thing.
Commissioners will be harpooned without relent. They are commissioners, after all.
But, it’s the one in the four that can rise above it and deliver the calming speech who retires with grace. Think Bill Pullman in Independence Day. You almost forget he’s a politician.
That’s David Stern.
Stern was so good, his most comparable American general is a fictional hero who saved the world from aliens.
And, it’s because he’s the best that he retires first. The good ones always know when to walk away.
As for Selig, or Bettman?
Dick Cheney comes to mind.