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Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012
Stern set to step down as NBA commissioner in 2014
NEW YORK — David Stern spent nearly 30 years growing the NBA, turning a league that couldn't even get its championship series on live prime-time TV into a projected $5 billion a year industry.
Confident the NBA is in good shape and certain he has found someone who can make it even better, Stern is ready to end one of the most successful and impactful careers in sports history.
Stern will retire as commissioner Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years to the day after taking charge of the league, and be replaced by deputy commissioner Adam Silver.
"I decided that things are in great shape and there's an organization in place that will ultimately be led by Adam that is totally prepared to take it to the next level," Stern said Thursday during a news conference following the league's board of governors meeting.
It's hard to be any better than Stern, perhaps the model sports commissioner.
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.
"For all the things you've done for the NBA and for sports generally, I think there's no doubt that you'll be remembered as the best of all-time as commissioners go and you've set the standard, I think not even just for sports league commissioners, but for CEOs in any industry," Silver told Stern sitting to his left on a podium.
Stern told owners of his plans during their two days of meetings, and the board unanimously decided Silver would be his successor. Owners will begin negotiations with the 50-year-old Silver in hopes of having a contract completed by their next meeting in April.
Stern, who turned 70 last month, became commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. He has been the NBA's longest-serving commissioner, establishing the league's brand around the world, presiding over team expansion and overseeing the establishment of the WNBA and the NBA Development League.
"There is no debate that David Stern has earned his spot in the pantheon of sports commissioners. Deservedly, his name and reputation will always be synonymous with the phenomenal growth and success of the NBA over the last three decades," union executive director Billy Hunter said in a statement.
Seven franchises have been added under Stern and the league has seen a 30-fold increase in revenues. Stern insisted the NBA have a presence on social media, and the league and players have more than 270 million likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter.
"There are all kinds of other business metrics we could look at that would define David as one of the great business leaders of our time," Silver said.
Stern said he decided on his plans about six months ago, having guided the league through a lockout that ended nearly a year ago. He didn't want to leave until the labor deal was completed or until he was confident there was a successor in place, and both are done. Silver has been the league's No. 2 since 2006, and both Stern and league owners praise his abilities.
"I don't know what else to say other than to recite what I told the owners yesterday in (an) executive session," Stern said. "I told them that it's been a great run, it will continue for another 15 months, that the league is in, I think, terrific condition."
Stern is the one who got it there, taking over what was a second-rate league with little-to-no TV presence — the NBA Finals were on tape delay in the early 1980s — and making basketball one of the world's most popular sports.
"A couple of things that stand out to me is that David has been, in my estimation, the type of commissioner that has set the standard not only for the NBA but for all of the sports," said Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the outgoing chairman of the board of governors.
Taylor said there's been a "40-fold" increase in revenues from the league's national TV contract, and that the average player salary will have had grown from $250,000 when Stern took over to $5 million by the end of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Stern was the league's outside counsel from 1966-78, then its general counsel before becoming executive vice president of business and legal affairs from 1980-84.
He replaced Larry O'Brien to become the league's fourth commissioner, getting a boost in taking the game mainstream with the popularity of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and soon Michael Jordan.