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Volume 23 No. 13
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Forum: Remembering Stern; and announcing our Champions of 2020

Losing a true giant in sports business was a painful, sad way to start the new year. David Stern’s death on Jan. 1 left so many of us sad, hurt and even angry. That’s how I felt in realizing that the 77-year-old legend didn’t have more life to live, more questions to ask, more problems to solve and more fun to have. I kept going back to look at our cover story on Oct. 28, which showed a proud, gleeful Stern with his business partner John Kosner, as they picked the jockeys they were betting on among their investments in sports. You could tell how much fun he was having, and how much he still hoped to have.

My final time with him was at our Dealmakers in Sports conference on Dec. 4, where a noticeably slower-moving Stern took in my interview with his successor, Adam Silver, from the back row, sitting with Kosner and some young people he was mentoring. I still remember Silver, before we took the stage, quietly and discreetly, walking over in the back of the room to Stern, bending over and giving a warm grab of his knee. Little was said, but the look in their eyes showed their great mutual respect.  

I’ll miss David Stern’s big ideas, his tireless ambition, his belief in sport as a vehicle for social good, his skill in crafting arguments and rebuttals and even his caustic needling. But what I’ll miss most are his counsel, support and kindness. I just wish I had one more chance to thank him.


We are pleased to introduce the 2020 Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business, our 11th class recognizing well-known visionaries in the industry. Here are our six honorees.

JIM DELANY: Delany retired from the Big Ten after 30 years as its commissioner and leaves as one of the most influential administrators ever in college sports. He was a pioneer in sports media, as well as a trendsetter on expansion, growing the Big Ten to 14 schools. His behind-the-scenes work on diversity made the conference a professional launching pad for many minorities in college sports. 

MARVIN DEMOFF: Demoff may be best known for representing future Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Dan Marino in the famed 1983 NFL draft, which featured six quarterbacks taken in the first round. But Demoff also represented other athletes and broadcasters throughout a well-respected career that spans 50 years. He is known for his creativity in the details of contract negotiations, but more than anything Demoff is known for his integrity. 

MARLA MESSING: Messing left a promising legal career in the early 1990s to tackle three projects that changed the face of American sports business forever: the launch of Major League Soccer, selling the 1994 FIFA World Cup, and her biggest achievement — delivering the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup at a scale few thought possible, supercharging the growth of women’s sports nationwide. A generation later, she’s rebuilding the U.S. Tennis Association’s critical Southern California division. 

TOMMIE SMITH: Smith’s enduring moment from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City came on the medal stand, when he and teammate John Carlos each raised a gloved fist during the anthem, a gesture widely known as a symbol of black power. Ostracized from the track and field world, Smith paid a price that is relevant to a generation of athletes who have been increasingly vocal on social issues in recent years.

JON SPOELSTRA: David Stern effectively advocated for Spoelstra, whose innovative style delivered at every stop, whether it was leading the Portland Trail Blazers to more than a decade of consecutive sellouts or transforming the former New Jersey Nets from a moribund franchise into one of the NBA’s sales leaders. He also flourished for more than a decade at Mandalay Baseball Properties. Over his career, he served as a mentor to a number of sports executives who sit in leadership positions today.

JIM STEEG: During Steeg’s 26 years with the NFL, the Super Bowl grew into America’s premier sporting event, as much a weeklong spectacle as a championship contest. Steeg brought a unique vision to the league’s events, including developing the highly popular and widely imitated NFL Experience at the Super Bowl. He transformed the NFL draft into one of the league’s biggest annual events that attracts millions of TV viewers and hundreds of thousands of visitors on site. 

We look forward to sharing their stories with you in upcoming issues, and welcome your suggestions for future Champions.

First Look podcast, with more discussion on David Stern:

Abraham Madkour can be reached at