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Volume 26 No. 209
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Stern Remembered As Tough Negotiator, But Friend Of Players

Late NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN "rarely shied from a confrontation," according to Ben Golliver of the WASHINGTON POST. The NBA’s labor wars "represented Stern at his most polarizing." In '11, 16 games were lost. As Stern "insisted on drastically reworking the league’s financial framework in favor of the owners, he accused player agents of being 'greedy' and 'trying to scuttle the deal.'” He was a "relentless, uncompromising leader" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/2). The NBPA in a statement said, "As tough an adversary as he was across the table, he never failed to recognize the value of our players, and had the vision and courage to make them the focus of our league's marketing efforts" (NBPA). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen: "He was a boisterous, demanding, occasionally caustic executive who was in power for so long that he seemed nearly imperial by the end of his reign." He was "fiercely protective of the league’s brand, even if along the way it meant belittling skeptics, reporters and subordinates" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/2). In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell writes, "He had vision. He had brilliance. He could inspire. And how he could instill fear." Adversaries "could see the former litigator in most everything he did." But he also "created relationships by being an authentic listener" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/2).

TOUGH NEGOTIATOR: NBC SPORTS CHICAGO's K.C. Johnson noted Bulls Chair JERRY REINSDORF "witnessed Stern in action" during several CBA negotiating sessions. Reinsdorf said of Stern, the negotiator, "He was always very prepared, had all the facts. Nobody could say anything that would surprise him. And he was tenacious. He knew he had a strong hand in labor negotiations and he played that hand. But he also knew that at the end of the day, we all had to work together. He couldn't alienate the players and union to where it was an irreparable breach. He never made it a personal battle" (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 1/1). Lakers F JARED DUDLEY said that early in his career, the players' union "would bicker with Stern for hours." Dudley: “He would tell us, ‘We’re enemies but friends.' It was indicative of his personality where, whatever side he was on, he was going to fight tooth and nail. And he was on our side 99 percent of the time" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/2). ESPN's Jalen Rose: "He knew how to keep all sides happy for the growth of the league and now the players can now flourish." ESPN’s Damien Woody added, “Coming from the NFL and looking at the NBA, the thing that really stands out to me looking back at David Stern’s career in the NBA is how he was able to market the players." Woody: "When we think about the NBA, you don’t necessarily think about the teams, you think about the Lebrons and the Steph Currys and the James Hardens. David Stern is the reason that we’re talking about that today." ESPN's Domonique Foxworth: "Being a former player and also being a black man, it’s a league that has had black men and former players as owners, and that’s huge also" ("First Take," ESPN, 1/2).

ALL FOR PLAYER POWER: In N.Y., Matthew Futterman writes, "Instead of trying to snuff out the rising power of players -- an approach that had cost baseball and football hundreds of millions of dollars and huge chunks of seasons -- Stern figured out how to embrace the change and capitalize on it." Warriors President & COO RICK WELTS: "He would talk about the athletes, the beauty of the sport, and explain how we were going to create a business structure around this to make it a really good investment. He was mesmerizing when he would get in a room. You couldn’t not believe him because of the passion.” Attorney JEFFREY KESSLER, who represented the Players Association in numerous fights with the league during Stern’s tenure, said Stern "recognized that the game was about the players, and he elevated the marketability of those players in a way that had never happened before" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/2). In Toronto, Doug Smith notes Stern at heart was a "fan of the game and its players, it’s balletic beauty and the possibility that it could unite fans around the world" (TORONTO STAR, 1/2). TNT's CHARLES BARKLEY: "When I got to the NBA in 1984, which was Commissioner’s first year, the average salary was $250,000. It’s almost $9 million now. And he is largely responsible for that" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/2). Also in N.Y., George Willis writes, "If you like the NBA, then you can thank David Stern. And if you hate the NBA because it is player-driven, then credit David Stern for that, too." More Willis: "He made the NBA about the players. They are the stars. They are the brand. Stern was smart enough to exploit that" (N.Y. POST, 1/2).