5 Final Touches Before David Stern Retires from the NBA
On October 25, 2012, NBA commissioner David J. Stern announced he will retire effective February 1, 2014, precisely 30 years from the day he took office.
Stern's tenure as NBA commissioner has been an amalgamation of unprecedented success and controversial moments.
As unpopular as some of his relatively recent decisions have been, such as the handling of the lockout last year and the nixing of the trade that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, that the NBA is on much more stable footing now than it was when Stern took over is undeniable.
For better or worse, Stern has a large and storied body of work as NBA commissioner. Despite his final day being etched in stone, Stern should by no means kick back and rest on his laurels.
The NBA would be in fine shape if he chose to make no waves and simply maintained the status quo until he hands the reins over to deputy commissioner Adam Silver. But there are numerous improvements that should be made.
Planning for the future, rectifying past mistakes and preventing catastrophes from recurring should hold equal importance for Stern from now until he retires.
Here are the top five things that should top Stern's priority list.
1. Help Get Seattle an NBA Team
Perhaps the biggest black eye on the David Stern era is the relocation of the beloved Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City and the re-christening of the former Sonics as the Thunder.
Current Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics from the Basketball Club of Seattle, which was led by Howard Schultz, on June 18, 2006. Bennett and his partners moved the team to Oklahoma City, alleging the move was made necessary by the inability of Bennett's group and the city of Seattle to come to an agreement on a new arena.
Numerous pieces of evidence surfaced later that seemed to indicate some members of Bennett's group intended to move the team to Oklahoma City all along, and that the move was not necessitated by the lack of a new, publicly funded arena in Seattle.
Stern's fingerprints are all over this. He supported the move from the 14th-largest TV market to the 45th, which drew questions and criticism from Seattle fans as well as the media. Stern went even further and intervened on Schultz's attempt to block the team's move to Oklahoma City.
Stern could more than get the ball rolling on getting the NBA back in Seattle. The logical team to move is the Sacramento Kings, who are going through their own issues with ownership and finances. If Stern does anything short of bending over backward to ensure basketball will return to Seattle either prior to or shortly after his retirement, it won't be enough.
Simply put, he owes Seattle a basketball team.
2. Ensure Long-Term Labor Peace
The NBA lockout that cut the 2011-2012 season to 66 games was an absolute start-to-finish nightmare for all parties involved. No one was more disgusted by the constant he-said, she-said stories and the repeating ad nauseum from both sides about how poorly they were doing financially.
The lockout has since been resolved, and David Stern is back to doing everything short of gleefully boasting how well the league is doing. As of last checking, the players are still nearly all multi-millionaires who want for nothing.
Considering the smashing shape everyone seems to be in, perhaps Stern can set a good example by strongly urging protege Adam Silver to tone down the doom-and-gloom talk when the current labor deal expires. Evidence clearly shows that reports of each side's financial demise were greatly exaggerated.
Stern needs to set the precedent that the No. 1 priority when negotiating a new labor deal is to get one done as soon as possible to avoid having any further lockouts or regular-season games lost.
3. Continue the Worldwide Expansion
Among the most positive things David Stern has done is to increase the popularity of basketball worldwide, where it is arguably the second-most popular sport trailing only soccer.
Stern's push for worldwide basketball fever has been assisted by the prevalence of foreign basketball stars such as Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming as well as very successful and competitive basketball in the Olympics.
Stern has an opportunity help the NBA grow exponentially in foreign markets. It's highly unlikely he could put the finishing touches on a European franchise, but he could certainly study the viability of an NBA team overseas and whether it would be a profitable endeavor for all parties involved.
Stern has said he'd like a franchise or two in Europe. So why not get the ball rolling and seriously look at the possibility of expanding to Spain, France or the UK?
4. Revitalize the NBA All-Star Game
Those who are old enough remember the prestige the NBA All-Star Weekend once held. Those who saw it live will never forget the epic Jordan/Wilkins dunk contests. Larry Bird calmly drilling three after three with his warm-up jacket still on will forever be synonymous with not only All-Star weekend, but with a seminal NBA moment.
What happened to THAT All-Star weekend? What happened to contestants in the actual All-Star game giving a crap about playing defense and actually winning the game? Where did all the creative dunks go?
There's no easy fix to restore All-Star weekend, but Stern certainly has defeated larger foes than giving All-Star weekend a shiny new coat of paint and ramping up interest in the festivities once again.
5. Improve Competitive Balance
With so few teams winning the NBA title in the past 20 years, it's hard to say any true parity ever existed within that time frame.
There is certainly an argument to be made for the NBA keep its current systems that allow for the creation of super teams such as the Miami Heat if superstars are willing and coordinated enough to organize themselves.
Dynasties certainly make the NBA interesting. There is something beautiful about watching a team as dominant at Jordan's Bulls, Magic's Lakers or Bird's Celtics.
But the NBA and Stern have always preached the desire for competitive balance and to have parity. If that is the case, why hasn't Stern stepped in and done anything about the players' ability to create a juggernaut overnight just by making a few offseason phone calls?
If parity is an important issue to Stern, he should also make it easier for small-market teams to retain their superstars. As with the All-Star game, there's no quick fix for this particular issue.
What can Stern personally control about beautiful weather in Orlando or no state income tax in Texas? Can he really make Salt Lake City or Milwaukee a more appealing place to live than Los Angeles or Miami?
Stern will have to get creative with this issue, but if he's as gung-ho about competitive balance as it appears, he should make it a priority to get done.