Published October 25, 2012
Philadelphia, PA – David Stern announced his retirement as commissioner of the NBA, effective February 2014, and he will go down as the best leader in the history of the sport.
Maybe in all of sports.
His final day on the job will be Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years to the day he was hired for the position.
"Exactly the day," Stern said Thursday from the NBA Board of Governors meeting. "I decided that things are in great shape. I'm looking forward to doing some other things. I'm stepping down. I'm not retiring."
Where can you even begin lauding Stern's accomplishments?
The list is so long, it might as well start chronologically when Stern was just the executive vice president of the NBA. Alongside the NBA Players' Association, Stern brought drug testing and a salary cap to the sport.
In 1980, the NBA had a serious drug problem and we aren't talking HGH and steroids. The drugs Stern and the NBAPA eliminated were the hard stuff. Baseball and football took forever to clean up their act on drugs. Stern handled it before he even became commissioner.
And almost 30 years later, the idea of a world without a salary cap is a preposterous notion.
When Stern took over as commissioner, he oversaw the game at its highest. The Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era ushered in the Michael Jordan era and that's when Stern really saw the dollar signs, not just at home, but abroad.
Stern, resistant at first, allowed NBA players to compete in the Olympics, starting in 1992. Remember the Dream Team? Stern had a hand in that.
The NBA branched out to 30 teams under Stern's stewardship, including a move into Canada. NBA basketball is shown in 215 countries. Stern would even like to see teams stationed overseas. The New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons are playing in London this January. Preseason games took place this year in Europe, Mexico and China.
Stern would probably work hard with NASA to get an NBA franchise on the moon.
Technologically, the NBA set the standard with the its use of social media and creation of NBA TV, which largely had to do with Stern's successor, Adam Silver. In a perfect combination of globalization and social media, the NBA is the most followed sports league in China across social media.
Under Stern's watch, the WNBA was created, the D-League came about and the sport's popularity sky-rocketed.
Know what else sky-rocketed? Checking accounts.
Glen Taylor, the majority owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and outgoing chairman of the Board of Governors, cited a statistic at the press conference that the average player salary when Stern took over in 1984 was $250,000. Now, it's $5 million.
It's easy to say that the economy changed and that's fair. But the economy certainly hasn't been great lately and the NBA has thrived.
Viewership on ABC, TNT and NBA TV were the highest in history in 2011-12. Last season featured the highest season-ticket renewal rate. Adidas and Spalding recorded their highest NBA sales ever last year.
It's hard to pinpoint a single greatest accomplishment.
"The best is a long list of things," said Stern, then offering the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics as an answer.
"I don't have that list," he said right before breaking into Frank Sinatra's "My Way" briefly at the press conference.
There were hiccups.
Stern was around for four lockouts, including one last season, and he came off as inflammatory in his rhetoric. That was a whole-hearted defense of the owners, but it didn't speed up the process.
The whole Tim Donaghy fiasco also occurred on his watch.
Stern has to deal with the stupid NBA Draft Lottery conspiracy theorists who claim foul play in both 1985 for the New York Knicks and last season with the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets.
Last year, his reputation took a bit of a hit as well when he vetoed a three- team trade that would've sent superstar Chris Paul from the Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The brawl at the Palace provided several black eyes, but Stern came down swiftly and, pun intended, sternly on Metta World Peace, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson. (It's worth noting, of the 156 games Stern suspended all parties involved, only 10 were overturned on appeal by a federal arbitrator.)
There was the minor debacle when the NBA introduced a micro-fiber ball at the start of the 2006-07 season. It was panned and the old leather ball was back by January.
Stern implemented a dress code in 2005 and it was perceived by some as a racial issue, trying to eliminate hip-hop culture. But every player not in uniform is still wearing a sports jacket to this day.
The NBA exploded on Stern's watch. It sure helped having Bird, Magic and Jordan to carry the ball, but most of Stern's decisions have left owners rich, players rich and fans satisfied.
That's all you can ask from a commissioner.