NBA Analyst Reflects On David Stern

The former NBA commissioner passed away Wednesday at the age of 77

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January 02, 2020 - 10:08 am
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Former NBA commissioner David Stern passed away on Wednesday, three weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 77.

For many, the news came as a shock. For others, not quite.

“It was a shock when the first news came out that he had the brain hemorrhage in a restaurant in New York, but when not only was there just limited news, but when you asked anybody about it, it was pretty clear this was really grave,” NBC Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin said on Ferrall on the Bench. “So by the time the news came down that he had passed, it really wasn’t a surprise anymore. But from the day we first heard the news, I think we all kind of started to reflect on just how much he had shaped the game and how much he meant to the NBA.”

Stern became commissioner in 1984. The league had Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and not much else.

“It hadn’t become the international global powerhouse that it was,” Helin said. “He just totally shaped the league. . . . He would not have kept his job as long as he did if he did not make it more profitable for the owners when he took over. But the NBA became a global league. The NFL is the bigger sport here in America, but the NBA has found a way. It is now the preeminent basketball league in the world. The best players are there, it has an international draw, it has a huge fan base in China, huge fan bases in Europe – it has grown in a way that Premier League Soccer has. It has taken on that kind of a global brand. Stern was at the forefront of that.”

Under Stern’s 30-year watch, seven teams joined the league, six relocated, and the WNBA and G League were created, among other milestones.

“He understood that the NBA could market its stars in a way that other sports couldn’t,” Helin said. “The sport is a little more intimate in the sense that fans are close to the court in a way that doesn’t happen in football or soccer or other sports. Plus, without helmets, without something protecting their heads, you can see their faces, you can see their emotions, you got to know the players – so they started to market the stars. It was Magic versus Bird; it wasn’t the Lakers versus the Celtics. He understood that. He understood what Michael Jordan could be internationally, not the Chicago Bulls. Putting the players as the face of the league changed it and changed it for the better, but also made it so much more marketable. He was the vision that saw that and what it could be in a way that I don’t think other leagues ever have.”

Click below to listen to Helin’s interview in its entirety.