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Former NBA commissioner David Stern has passed away at the age of 77 following a brain hemorrhage in early December.
The news of Stern’s passing came on New Year’s Day, and the NBA officially announced his passing. Stern had been hospitalized since Dec. 12 due to the hemorrhage.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver statement regarding the passing of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David J. Stern
Stern initially underwent emergency surgery on Dec. 12. He was eating in Manhattan, New York when the medical emergency occurred. As NorthJersey.com reported, he went into cardiac arrest around 2 p.m., information which came from the New York Fire Department.
Stern, who was born in New York, is survived by his wife Dianne and their two sons, Eric and Andrew.
He is best known for his tenure as the NBA’s commissioner, a role that he presided in for 30 years from 1984 until 2014. He is the longest-tenured commissioner in NBA history.
During his time as commissioner, Stern led the league through tremendous growth and prosperity. Not only did the league expand its number of teams, but players also became more prosperous during the ”80s and ’90s due to shoe contracts and the growth of the league on a global basis.
Here are a few key things to know about Stern’s life and career as the league’s commissioner.
1. Stern Was An Attorney Before He Was Affiliated With the NBA
While Stern is obviously best known for his 30-year tenure as the NBA’s commissioner, he had a career before any affiliation with the league. That would be because he was an attorney before his time with the NBA.
Stern worked for the law firm Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, LLP, the law firm that represented the league. He was actually the lead attorney in the Oscar Robertson case. The Robertson case was a landmark lawsuit in 1970 that saw the star player file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.
Robertson’s lawsuit sought to block the merger of the NBA with the ABA and to end the restrictions on free agent signings. The court issued an injunction against the merger — which delayed the merger until 1976.
The aftermath of the lawsuit saw the beginning of free agency.
2. Introduction of Salary Cap
While the idea of a team salary cap is commonplace in all of the major sports leagues in 2020, that wasn’t the case before Stern took over as league commissioner. It wasn’t until 1984-85 — Stern’s first season as league commish — that the modern day salary cap was implemented for the first time.
The salary cap leveled the playing field among all teams and created competitive balance. Furthermore, it also created a revenue-sharing system where owners and players were partners.
Before the salary cap, teams could spend whatever amount they chose to spend on players. During the first season the salary cap became instituted, they were each limited to $3.6 million in total payroll.
3. Implementation of Drug Testing
At the time that Stern took over as commissioner in 1984, the league had a reputation that its players used drugs. In order to clean up this image, the NBA admitted that it had a problem with its players using drugs and cleaned up that image.
Stern introduced the league’s first drug-testing policy in 1983. The NBA became the first major sports league in North America to implement one, as Marc Stein of the New York Times noted.
“The league incurred further damage to its image after a report in The Los Angeles Times in August 1980 estimated that 40 to 75 percent of its players used cocaine. In the ensuing 1980-81 season, 16 of 23 teams reportedly lost money.
Mr. Stern, elevated to executive vice president in November 1980, negotiated a drug-testing policy in 1983, making the N.B.A. the first major sports league in North America to implement one.”
4. NBA’s Dress Code
Prior to the 2005-06 season, Stern approved the league’s decision to change up its dress code policy.
The dress code banned players from wearing headphones, chains, shorts, sleeveless shirts, indoor sunglasses, T-shirts, jerseys and headgear such as baseball caps.
One of the major stars of the time, Allen Iverson, criticized the league’s decision to implement the new dress code policy, feeling as if the NBA was targeting the hip-hop culture.
Said Iverson, via BBC.
“I don’t think it’s good for the league – it kind of makes it fake.”
“They’re targeting guys who dress like me, guys who dress hip-hop … I think they went way overboard.”
The dress code policy remains in effect 15 years later in 2020.
5. Ushering of NBA’s Prosperity
While Stern obviously had a long career with many highlights, he is perhaps best known for leading the league into its greatest economic prosperity during the 80’s and 90’s.
The NBA expanded its teams into Canada, saw their franchises increase from 10 to 30 (since 1966) and also started televising games around the world.
As Jeff Zilgitt of USA Today Sports noted back in 2014, Stern left his post as the league’s commissioner with these financial highlights.
“Stern, who declined requests for an interview, leaves the NBA in fantastic shape: a profitable business generating more than $5.5 billion annually; average player salary of more than $4 million; rising franchise valuations; millions of fans worldwide; a $1-billion-a-year TV rights deal that will increase after the current deal expires in 2016; and a meaningful philanthropic endeavor helping others worldwide.”Current NBA commissioner and Stern’s former Deputy, Adam Silver, spoke of Stern’s profound impact on the league.“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand – making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”
That’s not to mention that Stern also founded the WNBA in 1996 and the National Basketball Development League in 2001. The NBDL continues to this day as the G-League — a minor league system for NBA teams.