SBD/October 26, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Stern Considered Among Greatest Commissioners Ever For NBA's Transformation

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David Stern during his tenure as NBA Commissioner has overseen “perhaps the most stunning transformation in the history of professional sports,” as the league became “a global brand with trendsetting broadcast deals, its own network and offices throughout the world,” according to Bill Oram of the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. Stern Thursday announced he plans to step down on February 1, 2014. Jazz F Al Jefferson said, "Look at the league when he first got in, and look at it now. I think he did a hell of a job and he can retire on top" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 10/26). The AP’s Brian Mahoney wrote Stern has been “perhaps the model sports commissioner.” Mahoney: “Name an important policy in the NBA -- drug testing, salary cap, even a dress code -- and Stern had a hand in it.” A lawyer by trade, he was “a fearless negotiator against players and referees, but also their biggest defender any time he felt they were unfairly criticized” (AP, 10/25). TNT’s Matt Winer said Stern is “widely regarded as the most influential commissioner in sports today and considered by many the best of all-time.” Clippers F Grant Hill said, "He's kind of been the standard in all of sports for commissioners" ("Clippers-Nuggets," TNT, 10/25). Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said, "I have so much admiration for what he's done for the league. His legacy, there's not a better commissioner in all of sports" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/26). NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner wrote under the header, “Stern On Short List As Greatest Sports Commissioner” (NBA.com, 10/25). FOXSPORTS.com’s Bill Reiter wrote what fans “know for sure is that for 30 years David Stern ruled the NBA with an iron fist and under its guidance made it into the success story it is today” (FOXSPORTS.com, 10/25). ESPN's John Buccigross said Stern was a “commissioner in full, a bulldog negotiating agent for his owners with a Madison Avenue marketer’s touch, confrontational with the media, ruthless in his business dealings and harsh in his role with the players as the vice principal disciplinarian" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 10/25).

DUSTING FOR FINGERPRINTS: ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst wrote Stern's fingerprints “can be found across the league's operations, most notably on strong revenue growth, the expansion from 23 to 30 teams, the movement into small markets such as Sacramento, Memphis and Oklahoma City, the spreading global reach spurred on by the league's backing of letting its players take part in the Olympics, and the establishment of the WNBA.” He was known for “being strong on discipline, conscious of image and trying to protect the NBA brand” (ESPN.com, 10/25). ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell wrote Stern was “a genius moving without the ball.” Stern was able to "help the league emerge from its horrible image problem and tape-delay Finals because he had the tools to work with -- namely Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.” But those who “really understand what Stern has meant to the league understand that sponsors who have invested their millions in the league over time were investing just as much in Stern's leadership as they were in the league's players” (ESPN.com, 10/25). In Utah, Jody Genessy writes Stern gets “much of the business-side credit for putting the NBA in a spot where it can also have a financially healthy and happy future” (DESERET NEWS, 10/26). ESPN's Chris McKendry said Stern was a "great businessman," and he ran the league "just like that" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/25). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Jason Gay writes basketball is a “game of creative expression, and Stern packaged that individuality as a product, in the same way Coke sold soft drinks or Nike sold sneakers.” The NBA became a “thriving export, as Stern was ambitious about crossing oceans and pushing the game into emerging markets.” It is “possible to see Stern's creative blueprint in concepts like Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby or the NHL's Winter Classic” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/26).

EXPORTING THE PRODUCT: USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt writes Stern’s “greatest international accomplishment is the NBA’s popularity in Europe, Asia and South America -- and increasing revenue along the way.” T’Wolves Owner Glen Taylor said Stern took the NBA “international way before our times.” Zillgitt notes the global market is “so important that after Stern steps down, he will remain involved with international projects” (USA TODAY, 10/26). ESPN's Marc Stein said Stern “has been a visionary commissioner” and outside of the EPL, "no sport has been able to globalize like the NBA.” Stein: “That is going to be the thing that we’re going to look back and say that David Stern was most successful at” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/25). TNT’s Winer said, “Expansion internationally was a big theme of his tenure” ("Clippers-Nuggets," TNT, 10/25). ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande wrote Stern’s vision of “elevating basketball to a soccer-like popularity around the world had the dual effect of expanding the market to the far reaches of the globe and broadening the talent pool available to the teams at home.” And his league “took to the Internet and social media better than anyone.” It is as if Twitter “was made for the NBA” (ESPN.com, 10/25). SI.com’s Ian Thomsen wrote “more relevant to the impact Stern has had on basketball would be a map that reveals audiences for the NBA spreading out from the U.S. to every corner of the world.” That is something “neither baseball nor American football would be able to accomplish.” The lesson of Stern's success is that the NBA “has increased revenues by focusing on the entertainment, which enabled the games to be viewed ever more universally by audiences who cared less about the sport and more about the personalities” (SI.com, 10/25). FORBES.com’s Patrick Rishe wrote Stern’s “largest business successes were (1) the recognition that stars move the needle and (2) his foresight to aggressively market the international growth of the sport” (FORBES.com, 10/25).

HICCUPS ALONG THE WAY: On Long Island, Al Iannazzone writes the NBA has had some “ugly times under his watch, including the brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004 and the gambling scandal involving referee Tim Donaghy.” There also have been “two lockouts that shortened the regular season" in '98-99 and '11-12. But the league “rebounded quickly from last year's work stoppage” (NEWSDAY, 10/26). The N.Y. TIMES’ Beck notes Stern is “often regarded as the greatest commissioner, for transforming the NBA from a fringe league whose playoffs were shown on tape delay to a $5 billion global enterprise, with games televised in 215 countries and territories.” Yet Stern will also be remembered “for the costly labor battles that led to the cancellation of games in the 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons” (N.Y. TIMES, 10/26). In N.Y., Lynn Zinser wrote Stern “isn’t popular everywhere.” Six franchises moved during his tenure, leaving “particularly hard feelings in places like Seattle.” He instituted a dress code for players that "rang paternalistic to many,” and when he was “doing something unpopular, he often wore a smirk that people found maddening” (NYTIMES.com, 10/25). SportsNet N.Y.’s Adam Schein said, “Mixed bag when you look at the Stern resume. I do think he over-expanded and failed there, but I do think he deserves credit for the development of small-market teams” (“Loud Mouths,” SportsNet N.Y., 10/25). But in Atlanta, Michael Cunningham wrote, “On balance, there’s been more good news than bad for the NBA during Stern’s time as commissioner” (AJC.com, 10/25). In L.A., Helene Elliott noted Stern’s “accomplishments will rightfully outweigh the criticism” (LATIMES.com, 10/25). ESPN's Stein said in recent years, there is "no doubt he’s become increasingly unpopular with fans,” but he "oversaw this league’s revival, the globalization, the Dream Team” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/25). SPORTING NEWS' Lisa Olson noted his “last 15 years as headmaster do teem with controversy,” but he “ought to still be taking victory laps for the way he got the NBA to reverse course” from his first 15 years (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/25).

MONEY MATTERS: SportsNet N.Y.'s Chris Carlin said under Stern's watch, "most of the decisions have been about money, and they haven’t necessarily been about the fans.” Carlin: "I don’t think he has always been great for the league” ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 10/25). NBCSPORTS.com’s Kurt Helin wrote, “Good or bad, everything on his ledger is a result of him chasing money." He will "tell you about the good of the game, but for him what is good for the game is seen through the prism of dollar signs.” His legacy is “not without scars and tarnish, but in the end the league was better off because of his nearly 30 years in charge” (NBCSPORTS.com, 10/25).

REVERSE COURSE: CBSSPORTS.com’s Ken Berger wrote part of the “majesty” of Stern's reign was his “deftness at playing the shell game.” Stern and Silver only 11 months ago “painted a picture for the owners of a sports league in shambles, suffering hundreds of millions in annual losses -- a business so sick and product so competitively skewed that skipping an entire season and flushing $4 billion of revenues was preferable to continuing to operate.” Berger: “Now, the skies have parted and the future is so bright, you have to squint to see it” (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/25). SPORTS ON EARTH’s Shaun Powell writes under the header, “Two Years Too Late.” The NBA for the most part was “trendy and edgy on Stern’s Rolex, a league that enjoyed smooth public relations until recently, crossed racial and social lines, blew up internationally and became part of pop culture.” That makes it “even more unusual to see the shape the league and Stern are in today, both enjoying financial success but suffering from a fair measure of scorn and suspicion” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 10/25).

EGO A GO-GO: YAHOO SPORTS’ Adrian Wojnarowski writes Stern has the “biggest ego in the history of the sport.” Wojnarowski: “Stern still has work to do; promoting the work of David Stern. Here comes his victory tour.” These 15 months before his February 2014 retirement “aren't about Silver's transition into the commissioner's job, but Stern's elevation into the sport's almighty” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/26).
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