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Volume 22 No. 44
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Forum: Strong run for NFL; industry says farewell to David Stern

The NFL should feel good as it hits Miami and finishes its 100th celebration.The league has enjoyed a 24-month run of mostly positive storylines. Looking back to our preview of last year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, it mirrored the upbeat vibe of this year: strong ratings, competitive play and good stories on the field in both traditional and new markets.

Now, that was balanced by the same concerns — inconsistent officiating, slight softness in attendance with its lowest leaguewide average, 66,648, since 2004, and player safety issues leading to the early retirements of such marquee players like Rob Gronkowski, Andrew Luck and Luke Kuechly. But there weren’t social or political issues dividing players, owners or fans, and the off-the-field distractions were manageable (see story). 

After the league leaves Miami and puts the bow on its centennial, it will pivot to completing a new CBA, which could significantly shake up the league’s footprint and the sports and entertainment calendar (see story), as well as media deals that have the potential to dramatically reshape the marketplace. League officials and partners should feel encouraged in Miami, and barring major missteps, the pieces are in place for the league to continue its strong run.

A FITTING MEMORIAL: There was a lot to take away from the classy memorial service for the late NBA Commissioner David Stern this month. It offered the right mix of emotion, levity, humor and depth around the man, down to Emily Dickinson’s lyrical poem, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” filling the final page in the program. It was an extraordinary gathering of people, and you could sense the sadness of just how much people would miss their irascible but empathic friend.

“David loved being on the big stage,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, appropriately, as the service felt “big” in front of a packed audience of more than 5,000 people. During the memorial, produced by the NBA, I wrote down terms that came up time and again about Stern — loyal, a tough friend, an emphatic leader who stressed the details and never hesitated to speak his mind. In addition, as Val Ackerman referred to it, his “grinding work ethic.”

Silver noted his good fortune of “learning from the master at the top of his game” for 22 years of his career at the NBA, and concluded by saying that Stern always told him, “It’s not how people think about you, but how they feel about you. And the feeling I have for David is I loved him.” Fighting back tears, Ackerman called Stern the “most important figure in the women’s sports movement since Billie Jean King,” and ended her remarks by saying, “We broads truly owe him.” Magic Johnson spoke eloquently about Stern’s consistent friendship and support throughout Johnson’s career, calling him “my friend and my angel” and “a man who stood for what is right.” Rick Welts also spoke from the heart about how he told Stern he loved him during their last luncheon in New York, and the graceful Wynton Marsalis said in one of the most beautifully written eulogies I’ve ever heard, “He would be your harshest know-it-all critic. But at the point of impact, he was pure caring, instilling clarity, confidence and championship.”

That emotional weight was balanced by stories of the fun “Davidisms,” such as “micro-management is underrated,” as well as the stories of young executives getting “Stern-ed” through his well-known dressing-down of employees. Another comment that stuck with me was Kathy Behrens recalling Stern frequently imploring his colleagues to use sports to improve society: “Shame on us if we don’t use the platform we have to help others.”

It was a fitting tribute, and we hope our look back at SBJ’s coverage of him, as well as personal memories of many in the business, will help everyone in sports remember the legacy of a true force in sports and society (see coverage). SBJ is pleased to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the tribute ads in this issue to three charities designated by David Stern. A total donation of $10,500 will be split to Earthjustice, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Best Friends Animal Society. Let’s remember the ideals and virtues that Stern stressed and stood for, and carry those forward into our efforts and that of our sports organizations.

I left that service thinking a lot of things — but mostly that David Stern did so many good things for the sports business, and we may never see another one like him again.

 

First Look podcast, with sports business stories Abe is watching, at the 26:51 mark:

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.