David Stern will be forever known as the NBA commissioner who brought basketball to the world. Stern, who began his career as commissioner in 1984, would revitalize and transform the NBA, from the 1992 Olympic Dream Team to the game expanding overseas and the countless other things he did to give the NBA a reputable image.
In 1984, when Stern entered the league, the average salary for an NBA player was $200,000. The average salary for an NBA player would reach $4 million by 2002. Stern joked around on the David Letterman Show saying the lowest paid mascot in the NBA still gets paid around $5 million a year. The reason for the climb in the average players salary is Stern’s expansion of the game. Basketball games came on once a week on Sundays and even during the finals the NBA had to struggle to get onto television.
The 1980s had put the NBA in a poor position with sports enthusiasts. It was commonly believed the NBA was a “black man’s sport,” predominantly played by drug-abusing African Americans. Stern understood basketball was in need of serious help; teams were threatening to file for bankruptcy and not playing defense, an indication that the NBA teams were lacking camaraderie and not attracting fans.
With Stern’s introduction as Head Commissioner of the NBA in 1984, he would quickly add the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets as expansion teams by 1988. The following year, in 1989, Stern would add the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves as expansion teams. He would also debut the first draft lottery in 1985 and the first 3-point contest in 1986. In 1990, David Stern brought basketball to the world, by making basketball the first U.S. sport to host regular season games outside North America, when the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz faced off for two games in Tokyo, Japan. The international trend would continue, when the 1992 Dream Team won gold in the first Olympics allowing professional NBA players. After the 1992 Dream Team, the NBA became an internationally-watched game; jerseys and other team merchandise were flying off the shelves to London, Berlin and Shanghai. 1992, was also the year the average NBA salary surpassed $1 million.
In 1995, Stern would induct two Canadian teams, the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies, as expansion teams, making the NBA committed to expanding internationally. In 1997, the energizer bunny of a commissioner would debut the WNBA, the Women’s National Basketball Association. In 2005, Stern would make sure the sentiments surrounding the NBA in the 1980s were never seen again, by creating the “NBA Cares” campaign. The campaign has allowed players to showcase off the court the appreciation they have for their fans and communities. Their main message is to help kids live better lives by being active and making healthy choices. The campaign has also helped raise over $225 million for charity.
David Stern will undoubtedly be remembered as the commissioner who brought basketball to the world. In his closing months, the 30-year veteran has spoken of possible expansion teams being brought into the NBA overseas in Europe. February 1 is David’s official last day, and basketball fans can only hope his predecessor can do half as much for the NBA as he did.
By Zane Foley