Not long into NBC’s partnership with the NBA during the 1990s, Dick Ebersol quickly discovered that he wasn’t dealing with any ordinary executive in David Stern.
Ebersol, then chairman of NBC Sports, was overseeing NBC’s first NBA Finals in 1991, which featured a dream matchup between the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers.
|David Stern shakes hands with former NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien in 1984.
Ebersol figured he had a plan to satisfy the commissioner.
“After Game 1 on NBC in 1991, which was on a Sunday afternoon, which the Lakers won in Chicago, I called David and said, ‘Listen, I’ve been able to convince NBC to put the rest of the games in these Finals — all of them — on in prime time,’” Ebersol said. “The first words out of his mouth were, ‘That’s great.’ His second thing was, ‘You’re not thinking of doing this only once, are you?’”
A half-hour later, Ebersol got an answer.
“I talked to Bob Wright, who was running NBC at the time. He heartily concurred with me that we should do it. So I called [Stern] back, and he got it.
NBA writer John Lombardo and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss David Stern's impact
on the NBA and what his future might hold.
“That’s the difference between a lot of people in the world who would have said, ‘Wow, that’s fantastic. We finally are going to have the whole Finals in prime time.’ Not with David.”
It is that vision, along with his razor sharp instincts and relentless management style, that allowed Stern over the course of his 30-year commissionership to take the league from a fringe sport in the early 1980s to the global property it is today.
Consider a meeting in the early 1990s between Stern, Portland Trail Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and then-NBA marketing executive Rick Welts.
Allen went to brief Stern about his plans to use an emerging technology called the Internet to help market the Blazers. Stern figured it might be worth listening to the guy who helped invent operating systems for personal computers.
“We sat in a conference room and none of us had a computer on our desks,” said Welts, who is now president and COO of the Golden State Warriors. “Paul told us he was going to have this thing called a website for the Blazers while explaining that it would be a big deal.”
After listening to the presentation, Stern stopped Allen in his tracks at the idea of NBA teams having independent Internet operations. A better idea, Stern insisted, was to centralize the league’s yet-undeveloped digital business.
“David said, ‘No, you are not going to do that,’” Welts said. “Here is the guy who invented the computer and David is telling him what he isn’t going to do. At the time, David wasn’t at the cutting edge of the user experience but somehow he had this crazy ability to see the long-term impact of innovation.”
But to Stern, execution and a zealous devotion to detail were just as vital as his vision in running the NBA.
“For me personally, he taught me to always look at the big picture and see where the world is going and define creative ways to meet rather than change it,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who takes over for Stern in February. “At the same time, he also taught that it’s not enough to just have a bold vision. You need a constant focus on so-called execution and detail to realize that vision.”
Changing the image
When Stern was named commissioner in 1984 at the age of 41, the league counted some 60 employees and $165 million in revenue. Each of the 23 NBA teams at the time operated mostly as entities unto themselves. The NBA’s average television deal was worth a paltry $28 million annually, and leaguewide marketing and branding was a foreign concept.
The NBA this year expects $5.5 billion in annual revenue, and one of the league’s small-market teams, the
|Stern increased the NBA’s business through media deals, marketing strategies, franchise expansion and international growth.
“When I got into the league, our central revenues outside of ticket sales were less than $1 million,” said Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who bought the Bulls in 1985 for $16 million. “David took basketball from a sport that had its Finals on tape-delay television to a worldwide sport. There was no marketing when I got into the league.
He was determined to bring what was a second-class sport into a world-class sport. You have to give him the majority share of the credit.”
Those early years under Stern were a battle as the league struggled to counter the negative image of NBA players.
“The biggest hurdle was the issue of player image because it covered the issue of race and how young athletes were perceived,” former NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said. “In the late ’70s and early ’80s, you had football and baseball, and the NBA wanted the respect as a mainstream sport. That is what had to be built over the years.”
As executive vice president for the NBA before being hired as commissioner, Stern was no stranger to tackling the league’s problems. A seminal moment came early in his tenure in 1984, the first year of a new collective-bargaining agreement that included the NBA’s first salary cap and a drug-testing system.
“David knew what the perception was and in order to make it attractive to corporate America, he got a drug policy, the salary cap, and he promoted players like Magic Johnson and Julius Erving as individual players and as the best athletes in the world,” said Steve Mills, who spent 16 years working for Stern at the NBA and is now president and general manager of the New York Knicks. “The players became the biggest assets the league had.”
Stern and his cadre of young workaholic lawyers, including Granik and Gary Bettman, a fellow deputy commissioner at the time who would go on to become NHL commissioner, spent the mid-1980s dispelling the negative image, an effort no doubt aided by the 1984 NBA draft class, which included future Hall of Fame players Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and John Stockton.
Always among the smartest executives in the room, Stern pushed the NBA into new media deals, created new licensing and marketing strategies, negotiated new labor contracts, led franchise expansion, and broke ground for international growth, all the while creating a new job description for a modern-day big league commissioner.
“David had to, and was able to, deal with the complexities of antitrust laws, labor laws, media rights, being the first league to have a drug agreement, and of marketing a sport with a brand that at the time he came on was perceived as being difficult to take to mainstream America,” said Bettman, who before joining the NHL spent 12 years working with Stern at the NBA. “He helped create a licensed product business before there was much of one. He brought all that together and he was the first to do that whole package. So I would say that David is the whole package and that is what a commissioner in this time had to become, particularly in this era of expansion internationally and onto digital media platforms — both of which didn’t even exist when he came in.”
The NBA flow chart may read that the office of the commissioner reports to team owners, but the reverse was reality as owners walked mostly in lockstep with Stern’s directives during his 30 years on the job.
“From a fun standpoint, I much prefer baseball where the owners can participate in the governance of the game,”
So strong was Stern’s leadership that rarely did owners contest any of his initiatives.
“To watch him in an owners meeting, he’d have a great way of always getting you to look for the big picture,” said former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund. “But he could also get down and wrestle with us over the issues.”
Owners meetings may have been meant for debate and discussion, but much of the decision making was left to Stern.
“I went to every board meeting for five years and it was just amazing to me,” said Pat Croce, former co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers. “We’d get the agenda, but whatever David wanted to get done, got done. He really cares about fans, too, and will get really radical with owners when he thinks the fans are getting shafted.”
From the hard-fought labor battles that brought lockout-shortened seasons to being among the first to see the rise of cable television to creating a separate business entity in China, Stern developed unprecedented power among the league’s ownership.
“He ruled by consensus but he always made sure he had a consensus,” said Micky Arison, owner of the Miami Heat. “Clearly he was very much a leader and not a follower of the 30 owners.”
The ability to lead was tested during some of the NBA’s darkest days, including the infamous 2004 “Malice at the Palace” melee that saw Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons players jump into the stands to fight with one another and
Stern levied unprecedented punishments that cost the players involved $11 million in lost salary. Stern and Pacers owner Herb Simon clashed over the league’s response, but as usual, Stern prevailed.
Simon, nearly a decade later, sees the value of Stern’s leadership.
“David didn’t care about our friendship,” Simon said. “He put the league first and that is why it has prospered. In the long run, he’s been right on everything he’s done.”
But along with the success were controversies and criticism that challenged Stern throughout his tenure.
There was the NBA’s first draft lottery in 1985, which brought out the conspiracy theorists claiming that the fix was in to get the big-market New York Knicks the first draft pick, Patrick Ewing. There was Magic Johnson and his stunning HIV announcement, then the Pistons brawl, followed by the gambling scandal involving referee Tim Donaghy. Stern also enforced a player dress code seen by some as heavy-handed, and he implemented an age limit for NBA prospects.
When the league owned the New Orleans Hornets from 2010 to ’12, Stern blocked a trade to send Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, a move that brought a raft of criticism. And Stern’s pet project in the WNBA still struggles for profitability.
“We can make a list of all the things he had to deal with, and these were not easy things,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA Basketball and former owner of the Phoenix Suns. “Yet I think he showed great compassion. There is also not enough said about his love for the game.”
Stern, well-versed in crisis management, rarely shielded himself from the issues.
“He never hid during a crisis,” said Terry Lyons, a former senior NBA executive. “It was always, ‘Deal with it, tell the truth and move on.’ That was in his DNA. He always said to us, ‘You’d better answer the phone when there’s a problem, if you want them to pick up the phone when things are good.’”
Stern also solidified his standing with owners during the NBA’s series of labor battles and lockouts.
“David fought during the negotiations to create a contractual situation that allowed small markets to compete,” said Peter Holt, owner of the San Antonio Spurs, chairman of the NBA board of governors, and chairman of the league’s labor committee during the last collective-bargaining agreement negotiations.
Those on the other side of the negotiating table from the commissioner call Stern as skilled a deal-maker as there is in sports.
“As the first league to have the cap, he has really been at the forefront of changing the economics of pro sports,” said Arn Tellem, vice chairman of Wasserman Media Group and one of the most powerful agents in the industry.
“He has a great ability to see any issue from both sides. Having empathy is an important skill in any negotiation, and even though he could disagree, one of his greatest strengths was to see it from the other person’s perspective — not to say he wasn’t strong-willed, but he could always grasp the other side of any argument — that is an essential skill for any deal-maker, and David is one of the best. Take all the other commissioners combined and I don’t think they equal his impact.”
As much as Stern pushed through his labor strategy, he also demanded and cajoled the networks and corporate sponsors to work together to help build the NBA.
|The commissioner worked to align the interests of networks and corporate sponsors.
Bluster and calculated intimidation were part of the delivery. Stern could be irascible with both the media and league partners, but there also was a willingness to listen to other ideas.
“He could have run any business, and he’s one of the few people in sports I would say that about,” said Paul Fireman, Reebok founder. “He may have been tough at times, but he was fair, and he supported his people and got great results out of them.”
The message was that the NBA was a league that could be a valuable partner, aligning the interests of both networks and sponsors.
“Throughout his tenure, David recognized the power of media, embracing change and in turn greatly expanding the visibility of the sport and its stars,” said ESPN President John Skipper. “He leaves with his NBA flourishing and positioned for a fabulous future.”
Stern was one of the first commissioners to migrate the NBA to cable television while advancing opportunities in the field of digital media. He created NBA.com in 1995, the first league to integrate both team and league websites. The NBA then launched NBA TV in 1999 (then called NBA.com TV), and the league has long embraced various social media channels to drive its brand.
“It was David’s vision and his smart, forward thinking that really put Turner on the map,” said David Levy, president of Turner Sports. “He was the only commissioner at the time to look at cable and Turner/ESPN as an option. He put his crown jewels on cable well before any of the other top leagues. He trusted us with the postseason. He trusted us with the All-Star Game. He trusted us with his brand at NBA TV and NBA Digital. These moves were both risky and visionary at the same time.”
Stern, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has no interest in discussing his legacy, preferring to leave it to others to offer perspective on his 30-year run with the NBA.
Some insist that it’s the globalization of the NBA under Stern that truly defines his tenure.
“David inherited a product that was burdened with a lot of issues, and he created a global marketing business and,
|As Stern prepares to step aside, the focus shifts to Adam Silver, who will succeed him as commissioner.
Come February, Stern’s carefully crafted and model succession plan guarantees a smooth transition, exemplified by the almost immediate and unanimous vote among owners elevating Silver to league commissioner.
“David’s legacy is twofold. One, he’s leaving the NBA as strong as it has ever been,” said Randy Freer, president and chief operating officer of Fox Networks Group. “The business is in great shape here in the U.S., and it’s well-positioned to continue to grow internationally. And two, David has become the role model for the modern sports commissioner — forward-thinking, globally minded, and media savvy.”
Others put Stern’s legacy beyond the NBA as he fought to bring the league recognition and respect outside the industry.
“He elevated the NBA and its brand into mainstream America,” Colangelo said. “He has rubbed shoulders with the Goliaths of the business world and with world leaders. Therefore, the NBA has received great benefits through his relationships with corporate leaders and political leaders across the board.”
Silver, who for 20 years has had a front-row seat serving as an apprentice to Stern, sees the impact his boss has had outside of sports.
“David has not only been one of the great commissioners of all time, but by any measure, he is one of the top CEOs in modern business history,” Silver said. “He has also shown us that the NBA is about more than basketball and that NBA players and fans are a reflection of a rapidly changing America and an increasingly shrinking and interconnected world. He always wanted to make sure we had a seat at the table on all matters related to sports and society.”
Staff writers Terry Lefton and John Ourand contributed to this report.
When David Stern replaced Larry O’Brien as NBA commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984, the wheels of change were already in motion. Stern had joined the NBA as general counsel in 1978 and was executive vice president before taking over as commissioner.
NBA writer John Lombardo and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss David Stern's impact
on the NBA and what his future might hold.
Stern in 1983 had played a key role in negotiating the league’s first salary cap, which was instituted in 1984 and initially set at $3.6 million for each team. At the same time, the NBA instituted a drug-testing program designed to improve the player image issue, and the league rallied its marketing forces behind star players such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
The results began to take hold, highlighted by a pair of television deals signed in 1984 and 1985. The league and the
|The Olympic Dream Team
Then in 1989, with Jordan, Bird and Magic driving fan interest, Stern negotiated a new four-year, $275 million deal with Turner and a four-year, $600 million deal with NBC.
The initial period of Stern’s tenure also brought new markets and expansion as Stern pushed for growth.
The Clippers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles and the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento. The NBA added the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic.
Amid all the growth came one of Stern’s defining moments. In 1991 he and Magic Johnson sat side by side in a stunning news conference announcing that the Lakers superstar had contracted HIV and would be forced to retire.
Stern began laying the groundwork for his global vision for the league, playing a major role in getting NBA players to participate in the Olympics. The crowning moment came in 1992 with the creation of the “Dream Team,” a collection of NBA superstars who captured the gold medal at the Barcelona Games. The players captivated international audiences and planted the league’s flag in the international marketplace.
It was a period of exponential growth for the NBA, but one that also tested Stern’s mettle in labor negotiations.
Much of that growth came on the media front. Fueled by the added fan interest over Michael Jordan’s return to the Chicago Bulls, Stern negotiated a four-year, $840 million TV deal with Turner and a four-year, $1.6 billion deal with NBC. The league launched NBA.com, a pioneering move by Stern that made the NBA the first league to
Along with the new media revenue, Stern further enriched the owners by adding teams in Toronto and Vancouver, each of which paid a $125 million expansion fee, a record at the time.
Stern fulfilled his vision and commitment to develop women’s basketball by creating the WNBA, which started as an eight-team league. It was one of Stern’s most personal moves, but the WNBA continues to struggle financially and some team executives privately wonder what the future holds for the league.
|Alonzo Mourning arrives for labor talks in 1998.
Despite the growth in this period of Stern’s tenure, there was a troubling harbinger of things to come. In 1995 the league experienced its first lockout, which lasted from July 1 to Sept. 12. Then came a damaging labor battle in 1998, which resulted in a lockout that brought the league to the brink of canceling the entire 1998-99 season. But a late deal between Stern and the players union salvaged a 50-game regular season.
“David was very tough,” said former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund, who was chairman of the NBA board of governors during the 1998-99 lockout. “We knew the dynamics were not right for a deal going into [the lockout]. As hard as we tried to be open, there was very little trust, but we were able to build it. David was able to push far enough but not too far. He was strong minded and stayed with it.”
San Antonio Spurs owner and NBA board of governors Chairman Peter Holt added: “David always understood that there had to be parity in the league.”
Stern found himself leading a changing NBA left without its most famous face after Michael Jordan retired following the Bulls’ 1998 championship.
The NBA put an expansion team in Charlotte to replace the Hornets and relocated the troubled Vancouver Grizzlies franchise to Memphis, an acknowledgment that the initial expansion move failed as the NBA misread the market’s acceptance of the franchise.
There was another big change for the league as it signed a new TV deal not with NBC but with ESPN/ABC, for six years and $2.4 billion. The NBA signed a $2.2 billion deal with Turner that put more games on cable and shifted the NBA All-Star Game off network television to TBS.
But soon, this era became a troubled time for Stern. First, the 2004 brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit
|The infamous “Malice at the Palace” leaves the NBA with a serious public relations challenge.
Aiming to improve the league’s image, Stern instituted a dress code for players, a move that some criticized as being heavy handed. He pushed through a minimum age limit requiring players to be at least 19 years old and at least one year removed from high school in order to be eligible for the draft.
The league also rolled out its NBA Cares program with a $100 million commitment to fund outreach programs including health, family and education projects.
Still, more troubles came. A gambling scandal rocked the NBA after veteran referee Tim Donaghy admitted that he passed inside information to gamblers. It was a damaging blow to the NBA’s credibility and one of Stern’s darkest hours.
Stern navigated the league out of its troubles with an eye on international growth and on the league’s newfound charitable mission.
“From the Jordan era to now, he was able to transition the league when things weren’t strong and as family friendly as he liked,” said Tony Ponturo, former vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch. “Each sport goes through a bad period that weakens the brand, but David was always good in managing that process.”
In January 2008, Stern executed his vision for an international league with the creation of the NBA China entity, which at the time was valued by Goldman Sachs at $2.3 billion. In one swift move, the NBA had a presence in China’s massive market where before it had only its games broadcast on Chinese television.
Stern scheduled regular-season games in London and Mexico and beefed up preseason international games for a total of 146 games played overseas. The long global reach helped to boost overall league revenue, which is expected to reach $5.5 billion this season.
“The single thing was the globalization of the brand and the game, and he will be remembered for that more than anything else,” said Micky Arison, owner of the Miami Heat.
That globalization and domestic growth of the game began to bring a run-up of franchise values. In 2010 the
|Team sales, including the Golden State Warriors, post some big numbers.
This final period of Stern’s tenure has not been without labor strife. A 2011 lockout, the fourth under Stern, forced a shortened 66-game season but it also brought a 10-year labor deal and a new revenue-sharing system designed to aid low-revenue teams.
As Stern prepares to step down Feb. 1, there is no doubt he leaves behind a league poised for even greater growth, with a new television deal expected to far eclipse the current eight-year, $7.5 billion deal that ends after the 2015-16 season.
“He leaves the NBA in an incredible position as he hands the torch over with enormous increases in franchise values, the impact of the game and the spreading of the brand internationally,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA Basketball and former owner of the Phoenix Suns. “His great leadership and track record will put him in a position to say that he is one of the great all-time commissioners in any sport.”
In his own words
“I don’t call myself Easy David for nothing. I’m always prepared to give away some more of the owners’ money.”
— Vowing to get a deal with locked-out refs during a contract dispute (New York Post, 11/14)
“If Dennis says he wants to dress in leather, Sports Illustrated will give him a cover. If he wants to take his clothes off, GQ will give him a centerfold. … It’s great. Dennis is really having his way with the media.”
— On the antics of Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman (Chicago Tribune, 5/2)
“If we can’t do it, it can’t be done.”
— On the creation of the WNBA (Washington Post, 6/27)
“We recognize that sometimes people step over the line and sometimes people step very far over the line. This one looks like — without having all the facts — that someone went into the stratosphere.”
— On Latrell Sprewell’s attack on coach P.J. Carlesimo (New York Times, 12/3)
“They say, ‘Watch us, tune into us … but I’m not a role model.’ Stop. You are an attention getter and you should agree to a certain code of conduct.”
— On player behavior and conduct (Washington Post, 2/8)
“You’re just a narrow-minded, Daily News, East Coast kind of guy. Out in L.A., it’s 6 o’clock and people are coming home from work. They’d like to watch the game, too.”
— After New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica asked him not to start NBA Finals games at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2, 5/4)
“You know, it was never true when they said I was very good, and it’s not true when they say I’m very bad. It’s something in the middle.”
— On whether he was humbled by recent criticism after years of praise (CNN, 1/5)
“It’s a failure on our part, on the ownership part and I think on the business community’s part. No doubt about it. But we’re moving on. It was unhappy.”
— On the Grizzlies leaving Vancouver (FSN Detroit, 11/1)
“Maybe a very small number of people want to play video games on their telephone or keep track of how many points Allen Iverson is scoring. But let’s try it. Because out of all of this is going to come something that will be a profitable application.”
— On the NBA’s future in digital media (Yahoo! Internet Life, 3/2)
“I’m committed to helping [ESPN’s] Dan Patrick’s career. His career is really sagging badly, and even to the point of putting on pajamas and a bathrobe, I would do it for Dan.”
— On appearing in ESPN’s NBA promos in a bathrobe (ESPNews, 10/16)
“In the not-too-distant future, there’s going to be as many elite basketball players on other continents as there are in the [U.S.]. Once that was unthinkable. If I’d suggested to you that there’d be 75 international [NBA] players a decade ago, you would’ve laughed at me. I’m telling you, does anyone think that Yao Ming is the last great player to come out of China?”
— On international players in the NBA (Los Angeles Times, 2/11)
“I’d rather not be part of a league that sends its scouts and [GMs] to 10th- and 11th-grade games so they can watch high schoolers. It’s not something that we’re particularly proud of.”
— On the number of players declaring for the NBA draft straight out of high school (ESPN, 5/26)
“Our psyche and image for the week — if you had an opportunity to read about a game, and a score or a great performance, and you’re reading about fisticuffs and brawls — then that can’t be a good thing. But this, too, will pass.”
— Asked to assess the impact the brawl in Detroit had on the league’s image (Newark Star-Ledger, 12/1)
“This is not about virtue anymore. This is not about public relations. This is not about business. This is about need and the specific opportunity that the world of sports has to respond to that need.”
— On the launch of the NBA Cares initiative (SBD, 10/18)
“He would always call me when I did something he didn’t like and tell me I didn’t have any [balls]. One day he called me after I had done something he approved of and said that finally I had done something that showed I had them. One of the great days of my life.”
— On the passing of Boston Celtics President Red Auerbach (Washington Post, 10/30)
“We think we have here a rogue, isolated criminal.”
— On gambling allegations facing referee Tim Donaghy (SBD, 7/25)
“I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I think they’re ridiculous. I think the noise, the fire, the smoke is a kind of assault that we should seriously consider reviewing in whether it’s really necessary given the quality of our game.”
— On the in-game entertainment experience (ESPN.com, 5/12)
“My management style is characterized by worry.”
— On his management style (“The B.S. Report,” ESPN.com, 12/10)
“To me, this is about Michael the businessman. I very much enjoy telling him that whatever he’s doing isn’t good enough. That’s all you have to tell him.”
— On Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan making the team financially viable following its first playoff appearance (Charlotte Business Journal, 4/30 issue)
“What I would say to you, as diplomatically as I can, is when somebody invents a painless way to remove tattoos, there is going to be a lineup of our players saying, ‘Thank heavens! What was I thinking when I did this to myself?’”
— On the number of NBA players sporting tattoos (Fox Sports, 1/6)
“I would say it’s fair to say this is my last. This is a 10-year deal, with a reopener at six. I’m not planning to be here certainly for the 10 and probably not the six.”
— Stating the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement would be his last (ESPN.com, 12/8)
“I have two answers for that. I’ll give you the easy one: No. And a statement: Shame on you for asking.”
— Responding to CBS’s Jim Rome’s question about whether the NBA lottery was fixed (“The Jim Rome Show,” 6/13)
■ Proskauer Rose’s David Stern begins his association with the league as an outside counsel.
NBA writer John Lombardo and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss David Stern's impact
on the NBA and what his future might hold.
■ Stern helps represent the NBA during the ABA-NBA merger.
■ Stern leaves Proskauer Rose and becomes the NBA’s first general counsel.
■ Stern is promoted to the newly created position of NBA executive vice president.
■ The NBA and the NBPA agree to a new four-year labor agreement that gives players 53 percent of gross revenue starting with the 1984-85 season. The two sides also establish a program to battle drug abuse, providing rehabilitation and requiring expulsion of repeat offenders and players convicted of using or selling drugs.
|Dominique Wilkins shows his skills at the 1984 slam dunk contest.
■ Stern named commissioner, succeeding Larry O’Brien.
■ The league makes the All-Star Game a weekend affair by adding the Gatorade Slam-Dunk Contest and Schick/American Airlines Old-Timers Game to the festivities.
■ The league signs a two-year, $20 million broadcast deal with TBS for cable broadcasting rights.
■ The Clippers relocate to Los Angeles from San Diego.
■ The Chicago Bulls use the third overall pick of the draft to select future hall of famer Michael Jordan.
■ Before the season, a $3.6 million salary cap is set in place, the league’s first cap since the 1940s.
■ The Kansas City Kings file paperwork to move to Sacramento for the 1985-86 season.
■ Players announce plans to donate their shares from the 1985 All-Star Game to aid famine victims in Ethiopia; the NBA matches the amount, bringing the donation to more than $100,000.
■ The New York Knicks win the first NBA draft lottery, a process used to determine which of the league’s bottom teams receive the first pick of the draft.
■ The NBA and CBS agree on a new four-year television contract worth $173 million.
Larry Bird participates in the 1986 three-point contest.
■ The American Airlines Long Distance Shootout three-point contest, won by the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird, is added to All-Star weekend.
■ The NBA signs a two-year, $25 million deal with TBS.
■ The league grants expansion franchises to Charlotte, Miami, Minneapolis and Orlando. The Hornets and Heat will join the league in 1988-89 and the Timberwolves and Magic in 1989-90. Each franchise will pay an entry fee of $32.5 million.
■ The opening game of the McDonald’s Open international competition, sponsored by the NBA and FIBA, is held in Milwaukee. The following year, the tournament is played in Madrid, Spain.
■ The NBA and Turner agree to a two-year, $50 million extension.
■ The Atlanta Hawks play an exhibition game against the Soviet Georgia All-Stars, becoming the first NBA team to play in the Soviet Union.
■ The league and players union agree to test all rookies for drug use during training camps.
■ The NBA draft is broadcast live for the first time, with TBS providing the coverage.
■ The NBA joins USA Basketball after FIBA modifies its rules to allow professional basketball players to participate in international competitions.
■ The league signs a four-year, $600 million contract with NBC and announces a four-year, $275 million renewal with TNT.
|Kevin Johnson dribbles down the lane during the 1990 regular-season game in Tokyo.
■ In Tokyo, the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz play the first regular-season game held outside of North America for any major American sport.
■ Magic Johnson retires after disclosing that he has tested positive for HIV. Johnson will return for a comeback with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1995-96 season.
■ The U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” features NBA stars for the first time and wins the gold medal in Barcelona.
■ The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks play the first NBA game in Latin America in a preseason matchup in Mexico City.
■ NBC signs a four-year extension of its contract for $750 million; Turner Sports agrees to a four-year extension of its cable TV contract, worth more than $350 million.
■ In the first preseason game played in Europe, the Orlando Magic defeat the Atlanta Hawks at London’s Wembley Arena.
■ The NBA board of governors grants the league’s 28th franchise to a Toronto group led by John Bitove Jr. The Raptors will begin play in the 1995-96 season.
■ The Schick Rookie Game replaces the Schick Legends Game during All-Star weekend.
■ The league grants a franchise to a Vancouver group headed by NHL Canucks owner Arthur Griffiths.
■ NBA All-Star balloting is extended beyond the United States for the first time. Ballots are available at Foot Locker stores in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia.
■ DirecTV announces a deal to carry more than 400 regular-season games to customers who subscribe to NBA League Pass.
■ The NBA faces its first lockout, but players vote to accept a new agreement before any games are lost.
■ NBA.com launches through a partnership with Starwave and ESPN.
■ The NBA and its referees sign a five-year labor deal, ending a lockout of the officials.
The record-setting Chicago Bulls team of 1996
■ The Chicago Bulls finish the regular season with a 72-10 record, setting a record for most victories in a season.
■ The NBA board of governors reveals the creation of the WNBA, to begin play in 1997.
■ After a lockout that lasts only a couple of hours, the league announces a new collective-bargaining agreement through the 2000-01 season.
■ Stern announces the 50 Greatest Players to honor the 50th anniversary of the founding of the league.
■ The league announces new four-year deals with NBC and Turner worth more than $2.6 billion.
■ The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets play the NBA’s first regular-season game in Mexico.
■ The 1997-98 season ends with the highest-rated NBA Finals in history. The six NBC broadcasts between the Bulls and Jazz average an 18.7 rating.
■ The NBA cancels the first two weeks of the 1998-99 season because of stalled labor talks.
|The NBPA’s Billy Hunter and Stern announce the labor deal.
■ The NBA and its players sign a six-year collective-bargaining agreement, ending the first regular-season work stoppage in NBA history.
■ The NBA becomes the first league to launch its own network, NBA.com TV (now NBA TV).
■ The NBA and Hard Rock Cafe break ground at Universal Studios Escape in Orlando on NBA City, the first NBA-themed restaurant.
■ NBA.com offers free Japanese-language audio broadcasts for the first time for the NBA Japan Games.
■ NBA.com launches NBA.com/UK, an online section for basketball fans in the United Kingdom.
■ The league announces that a team representing the NBA’s new developmental league will compete in the 2000 Asian Basketball Association League against teams from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
■ The league announces the forfeiture of Minnesota’s next five first-round draft picks, fines the team $3.5 million and voids all contracts between Joe Smith and the Timberwolves because of a secret agreement among Smith, his agent and the team in violation of the NBA’s salary cap rules. The league later restores Minnesota’s 2003 first-round draft pick.
Kwame Brown, the first No. 1 pick straight out of high school, receives his Wizards jersey from Michael Jordan.
■ Wang Zhizhi becomes the first China-born player to play in the NBA.
■ The Washington Wizards select Kwame Brown, making him the first No. 1 draft pick to be selected straight out of high school.
■ Basketball Without Borders begins. The project represents a joint effort between the NBA, the International Basketball Federation and the United Nations.
■ The NBA board of governors approves the move of the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis starting with the
■ The NBA Development League (D-League) begins its first season of play.
■ The NBA reaches six-year deals, totaling $4.6 billion, with ABC/ESPN and Turner to televise league games beginning with the 2002-03 season.
■ NBA owners approve the Hornets’ move from Charlotte to New Orleans beginning with the 2002-03 season.
■ A group led by BET founder Robert Johnson is awarded the expansion Charlotte franchise. Johnson will become the first African-American majority owner in U.S. major professional sports. The team will begin play in the 2004-05 season.
■ The NBA and NBPA announce that the league will exercise its option to extend the collective-bargaining agreement through the 2004-05 season.
■ NBA referees approve the league’s latest contract proposal.
■ A fight between players and fans during a Pistons-Pacers game at Detroit results in Stern handing out several suspensions, including the suspension of Indiana’s Ron Artest for the remainder of the season.
|Players show off their business casual attire in 2005.
■ A new six-year labor agreement is reached that includes shorter contract lengths, a higher age limit for players entering the league, and a stricter drug-testing policy.
■ Hurricane Katrina causes extensive damage to New Orleans Arena, forcing the Hornets to seek a temporary venue. The Hornets relocate to Oklahoma City and play the majority of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons there before returning to New Orleans in 2007.
■ The league launches the NBA Cares global outreach initiative.
■ A controversial dress code is introduced for players with a basic requirement of business casual attire whenever players are engaged in team or league business.
■ Google signs a video download deal with the NBA. The new Google Video Store will feature full-length, downloadable videos of every NBA game for the season.
■ The NBA signs an 11-year exclusive merchandising partnership with Adidas beginning with the 2006-07 season.
■ The NBA states it will return to using a traditional leather game ball made by Spalding for the remainder of the 2006-07 season, beginning Jan. 1, after introducing a composite ball at the start of the season.
■ The league finishes the 2006-07 regular season with the highest total attendance (17.8 million) and the highest average attendance (17,757) in NBA history.
■ The NBA announces eight-year media rights renewals with Turner and ESPN/ABC valued at
$930 million annually.
■ Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleads guilty to two felonies stemming from his involvement in advising professional gamblers on NBA games.
A fan competes in a shooting contest during the NBA Jam Van in China.
■ The NBA announces the creation of NBA China, an entity that will conduct all of the league’s businesses in China.
■ Clay Bennett reaches a settlement in the lawsuit filed by the city of Seattle, completing the move of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City. A group led by Bennett bought the team in 2006.
■ Stern says the league is laying off 9 percent of its work force over worries about the U.S. economy.
■ The NBA confirms that beginning with the 2009-10 season the league will allow teams to sell ads on their practice jerseys.
■ The NBA declares a lockout of the league’s referees. Replacement referees are used in the preseason, but a new labor deal is reached before the regular season begins.
■ The New Jersey Nets announce the sale of a majority interest in the team to Russia-based investor Mikhail Prokhorov.
■ The NBA signs a three-year sponsorship with Bacardi, making it the league’s first spirits partner.
■ During a live ESPN special, LeBron James announces he is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat.
■ The NBA opens a new office in Moscow.
■ The CBA expires and forces the fourth lockout in NBA history. The lockout lasts 161 days, ending Dec. 8, 2011, when the owners and players ratify a new 10-year labor agreement.
■ Stern vetoes a three-team trade that involved sending Chris Paul to the Lakers, Lamar Odom and other players to the league-owned Hornets, and Pau Gasol to the Rockets.
|Saints owner Tom Benson goes for two in New Orleans.
■ Stern says he will recommend Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver to succeed him as commissioner.
■ The New Jersey Nets unveil their new team logos and color scheme. The Brooklyn Nets will begin playing at the new Barclays Center starting with the 2012–13 season.
■ Google agrees to pay the NBA a rights fee to stream 350 NBA D-League games live for the 2012-13 season.
■ New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson buys the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA for $338 million. The league had acquired the team from founding owner George Shinn in December 2010.
The Indiana Pacers get to work on new sponsor inventory.
■ The New Orleans Hornets announce that the team’s name will switch to the New Orleans Pelicans beginning with the 2013-14 season. The Charlotte Bobcats later announce that they will take over the Hornets name beginning with the 2014-15 season.
■ The NBA and SAP AG launch NBA.com/Stats, providing comprehensive league statistics.
■ A Sacramento-based group led by Vivek Ranadivé reaches a deal with the Maloof family to buy a controlling stake in the Sacramento Kings. The deal sets the team’s overall value at an NBA-record $535 million.
■ NBPA player reps vote unanimously to terminate the contract of Executive Director Billy Hunter.
■ The Indiana Pacers broker a deal with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., becoming the first NBA team to sell ads on the court.
■ The NBA, four former ABA teams and former ABA Spirit of St. Louis co-owners Ozzie and Daniel Silna announce a conditional deal that will end the Silnas’ golden annuity and settle a lawsuit filed by the Silnas for additional compensation. The Silnas will receive an upfront payment of $500 million.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Recollections about the commish
“The day after we did the deal [to buy the Philadelphia 76ers], April 19, 1996, I take the train up to New York. I
|Pat Croce and Stern at the 1996 draft lottery
“So it was about an hour talk at his desk and as we were finishing, I stood up and I picked up this small Spalding/NBA clock from his desk and I told him, ‘I am going to keep this as a memento and when you give me the NBA championship trophy, I will give this back to you.’
“In June 2001, we are in the Finals against the Lakers and he calls me and says, ‘I want my clock back.’ He remembers everything.”
Former Philadelphia 76ers co-owner and president
“To show you how he can really get people engulfed in his wig of activities apart from the NBA — we’d been partners for about three years and had become really good friends. We had traveled together with our wives. He always joked about what a WASP Ebersol was. He called and asked if I would come over to the office. So I went
“He said, ‘Here’s what we would like you to do. We want you to be the chairman of the fundraising for the annual Bonds for Israel drive.’
“On one hand, I thought, ‘Oh, my God. What the heck is he getting me into?’ On the other hand, I went, ‘Wow. What a compliment that he thinks that I can do this.’
“So there I was chairing and then president over the Bonds for Israel dinner in New York a couple of months later.”
Former chairman of NBC Sports
“As the world of professional sports knows and admires, David Stern is both a visionary and a great marketing force in the industry. However, what some people may not know is that David has a tremendous depth of understanding and warmth for his good friends, which are many.
“One small example comes to mind where a few years ago I had a serious operation in London, and when I returned to New York, David called and asked how I was feeling and could we have breakfast together later that week. We scheduled a breakfast for a Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in New York, and as David was driving into New York, he was hit by a continuous rainstorm out on the Island. He literally called me three or four times to tell me that, despite the bad weather and slow traffic, he was still coming to meet me for breakfast to see how I was feeling. He arrived at 11:15 (almost three hours delayed), and we still had a fun and lively breakfast! But David was determined to visit and kibitz with me, in order to see firsthand how I was recovering from my eight-hour operation in London.”
Group president, Lagardère Unlimited
“David has a great sense of humor. Every year at the draft I send him an email grading his appearance. He will respond with some wisecrack; that his suit was a little tight, that he had on a great tie, etc. One thing I admire is that there was a period when we were in litigation with WGN and he never allowed it to become personal. It was always a business disagreement that ultimately got worked out and never carried into other dealings. A lot of people who have business disagreements want to make it personal.”
Chairman, Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox
“David has this ability to either intimidate you or make you feel comfortable. Fortunately for me, he made me feel comfortable. He turned to me at one point and asked what I wanted to do with my career. I said I might want to run one of his teams one day and he looked at [former NBA league executive] Rick Welts and said, ‘Why do young people with talent always set their sights so low?’
“Rick and I just started laughing. He knew I was considering moving over to the NFL. And he said, ‘I will tell you one thing. I guarantee you are not going to spend an hour and a half talking to Paul Tagliabue.’
“He will always be the guy who took a 30-year-old and gave him the opportunity to run everything the NBA was doing in Asia. I always appreciated the opportunity.”
Former executive at Gatorade, Nike and the NBA and current chief commercial officer for Arsenal FC in the English Premier League
“It was in the fall of 2011 after an all-day and all-night CBA session and reporters had been waiting all day for a comment. We came outside at midnight to a media scrum and David and I both spoke. Afterward, we were walking toward Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to meet our cars and saw [ESPN reporter] Henry Abbott walking around the corner with a big bag of coffee and doughnuts. He had missed us. He said that he had been waiting all day for a comment and thought he had 10 minutes and was getting coffee for everyone. David said right there that we were going to re-create what we had just said after we had just been in a 12-hour session. So we stood on the corner of 61st and Madison and with a twinkle in his eye, David literally said exactly to Henry what he said earlier to the gathered media.
“David was always mindful that there is a large, extended family dependent on the NBA running well and that it wasn’t just about what he needed to do, but that it required lots of interrelated and often independent people doing their jobs — even if they didn’t always agree with him.”
NBA Deputy Commissioner
“David knows how to push people’s buttons. He knows how to push different buttons with different people to motivate them. It was the way he set the tone and really I grew to admire that. You just had to have your act together. I would pull new hires aside and give them the David speech. Like you knew when Karl Malone is coming down the lane and you have to stand there and take the charge? David will come down that lane sometimes, so you always have to be ready. But if you set right, you will get the call, in either case.”
Former longtime NBA executive
“David asked me if I wanted to be on the NBA labor committee and be in on the battle. He told me that it would entail all-night meetings, but what he essentially told me was, ‘Peter, I need some new meat.’
“I said, ‘You’ve got yourself a new man.’
“David was right about needing a small-market team represented on that committee. He always understood that there had to be parity in the league.”
San Antonio Spurs owner and current chairman of the NBA board of governors
“When I was working at an ad agency on the Miller beer account, we had an NBA sponsorship. I was a young media buyer, and David was always very nice to me because I was a client. I then went to Turner and was part of selling the NBA to advertisers.
“At some point early in my career, my assistant said, ‘Commissioner Stern is on the phone for you.’
“I was nervous because I had never been called by him before. I also was a little excited. I got on the phone and he gave me an earful on something — I don’t remember the topic — and I had some answers for him. I remember getting some harsh words from him and being a little bummed out about it. After I hung up, I remember thinking, ‘That was pretty cool. I just got yelled at by David Stern.’”
Chairman, NBC Sports
Former NBA league executive and current president and general manager of the New York Knicks
“David is persistent, passionate and fearless. He is so passionate about his brand. He had my home phone number and used it to call me on weekends, not in a calm voice, but in a demanding voice when he didn’t like something, like our promos for the NBA.”
President of Turner Broadcasting System
“Having been a thorn in his side for 30 years, with age he has mellowed a little bit. From the first time I met him, you could not help but sense his intelligence and deep understanding of every issue, from every perspective. We were on opposite ends of every issue, but I always had the greatest respect and admiration for him as a person and a commissioner. Even though we disagreed often, you always knew that everything he championed was for the betterment of the sport. What was revealing about him as a person was that no matter the net result of the issue, he always maintained that incredible sense of humor and humanity.”
Vice chairman, Wasserman Media Group
“During one point in Michael Jordan’s career, his name and likeness were already promised to Nike and not the NBA
|Rick Welts shares a moment with Stern in 2003 while with the Phoenix Suns.
“It was big theater, but it was not without its ramifications as we tried to resolve the differences with Nike. It was one of those moments. None of us could imagine doing it.
“There has never been anyone like him and there never will be anyone like him. He has this reputation of being volatile and tough, but that is more than balanced by this incredibly compassionate side to him that is known by anyone who has ever worked for him.”
President, Golden State Warriors
“When we were negotiating [the 1999 CBA] I was chairing the owners’ committee and in the middle of the night I got a call from David and he said we were close to a deal. He told me I was always trying to nickel and dime him. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, but he did listen to me. He finally said that ‘you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.’ His style is to bust you in the chops, but underneath he is very caring about the league. No one has worked harder in building up a sport.”
Former owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and former board of governors chairman
“David Stern was the first modern commissioner in the way we know sports leagues now. He was the first commissioner with the whole package. He didn’t just transform the NBA, he set a template as to how to function if you were running a league.”
NHL commissioner and former NBA executive
|Stern presents Micky Arison with his championship ring in 2012.
Owner, Miami Heat
“We are all creatures of habit, and at all the board meetings David would sit at one end of the table and I sat on the other, and I thought he was extraordinary in how he conducted the business of the NBA. He was dealing with a lot of egos and personal agendas and getting people to speak with one voice. That in and of itself took great skill. I remember vividly many of the CBA negotiations where he showed great leadership with his legal acumen, his toughness, but his fairness in those negotiations.”
Former owner, Phoenix Suns, and current chairman, USA Basketball
“It was always very challenging working for David. He drove himself as hard or harder than anyone else. I think some of those early years in some ways were the most enjoyable because they were the most challenging. I think we all recognized that it was a neat thing to be so young and run the NBA.”
Former NBA deputy commissioner
“David is far from mellow. When I first met him, I was scared to death of him. He was a little radical for me. He has this quirky way of being abrupt and whatever, but he always kept his word and delivered on what he promised, so I grew to really admire the man.”
Founder, Reebok and former NBA licensee
“The last deal I did with the NBA was Bud Light coming in as a renewal package. There wasn’t a strong sentiment
Former Anheuser-Busch vice president of global media and sports marketing
— Compiled by SBJ staff
Click to learn more
|League revenue: $165 million|
|Attendance: 10,506,355 total; 11,141 average|
|Salary cap: $3.6 million|
|International players: 10 (9 countries)|
|Total value of Franchises: $400 million (approx.)|
|Television deals: $20 million with Turner; $91.9 million with CBS|
|League revenue: $5.5 billion|
|Attendance (2012-13): 21,320,319 total; 17,348 average|
|Salary cap: $58.7 million|
|International players: 92 (39 countries) on opening night|
|Total value of franchises: $12 billion (approx.)|
|Television deals: $7.44 billion total with ESPN/ABC and Turner|