Few commissioners have done as much for their respective sport as David J. Stern has done for the National Basketball Association.
Under Stern's guidance, the NBA has grown from a league that once aired its NBA Finals on tape delay to a league now that attains astronomical television ratings and perhaps most near and dear to Stern, has become a global game.
Commissioner Stern's chief contribution to the NBA is the domestication of his league overseas. Stern continually emphasizing the importance of growth in Europe, coupled with the 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona are considered the two factors in why basketball became so immensely popular far outside the country that originated it.
Stern's resume as the leader of the Association has a number of impressive feats.
In 1997 he ushered in the WNBA, a league which is still alive today giving young women the hope of fulfilling their dreams to become a professional basketball player.
He was the brains behind the "NBA Cares" initiative, a charitable program designed to help ailing communities across the United States.
He instituted a stringent dress code at a time when the league was recovering from a potentially debilitating black eye after the Ron Artest Palace Melee.
In 1983, just prior to David Stern's promotion to Commissioner, there was no professional basketball in Charlotte, Minnesota, Miami, Orlando, Memphis or Canada. Toronto has remained as a viable NBA franchise, but Vancouver faltered because of historically awful performance on the court and consequently feeble attendance. The franchise moved to Memphis in 2001-02.
Love him or hate him, David Stern has been instrumental in the growth and expansion of the National Basketball Association. Only an uninformed fool would deny that. But despite all of his accomplishments, I think the league might be better served with the tutelage of a new commissioner.
Despite all Stern has done, he has a number of misfires as well.
David Stern oversaw Clay Bennett drive into the Emerald City just long enough to hijack the beloved Supersonics.
When former owner and Seattle native Howard Schultz attempted to reacquire the Supersonics to keep them in Seattle, and again later when Schultz threatened legal action against Bennett for his failure to keep his promise of an honest attempt to keep the Sonics in Seattle, Stern intervened on Bennett's behalf and supported the move to Oklahoma City.
Like Seattle, Charlotte was once a hotbed for NBA basketball for the first decade of the Hornets existence. Mysteriously frugal financial decision-making and foolishly impeding Michael Jordan's attempt at becoming part owner in the late '90s/early 2000s caused Hornets owner George Shinn to become a pariah to the city of Charlotte.
Despite the fact the Hornets were a competitive playoff team, the city had become so disenchanted with Shinn that they did nothing to support the embattled owner. Soon to follow the Hornets were uprooted from their rightful home and relocated to New Orleans.
As a resident of Sacramento, I am now seeing an eerily similar situation unfold in my hometown as well. Sacramento was infamous for being among the league's loudest and most loyal collection of fans for more than twenty years. Attendance was always at the top of the league, despite the fact that the Kings themselves were always at the bottom of the standings.
Failed new arena development plans, a downturn in the economy, coupled with a complete gutting of the roster and the lack of a competitive team caused attendance to sag severely in recent seasons. Twenty-plus years of support and loyalty has been overshadowed by a couple down years in attendance, and consequently Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have set their sights on moving the franchise to Anaheim.
Is Stern directly responsible for each of these franchises finding new homes? Of course not. But the blood is on his hands. There are 29 markets (Los Angeles having two) that are blessed enough to have NBA basketball. The fact that Seattle and Sacramento aren't included in that grouping is a travesty, and a major blemish on Stern's resume.
Multiple relocations have been a black mark on Stern's track record, but July 2007 allegations of a referee cheating scandal are far and away the worst infraction to take place on Stern's watch.
Longtime NBA official Tim Donaghy was sentenced for betting on games in which he officiated, and Donaghy also revealed that multiple games, including some notoriously poorly officiated playoff games, were impacted directly by corrupt officiating.
Luckily for Stern that issue has subsided substantially. Stern is currently dealing with a less severe criticism aimed at him.
Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy took Stern to task this week, with this vitriolic statement: "There's no case to present to the NBA. They like the way the game is being called...This is the system. David Stern and his minions like it. That's the system you have.
"And I certainly can't have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we've seen in this world lately, don't really tolerate other people's opinions or free speech or anything. So I'm not really allowed to have an opinion, so it's up to him. He decides. And he likes the system that he has. He does not tolerate freedom of speech when it comes to NBA issues. He's the only opinion."
Bravo, Mr. Van Gundy. To hell with the impending suspension and fine. Stan went to bat for his star player and in so doing called out Commissioner Stern for his dictator-like management style. Stern fines players for naturally reacting to abysmal foul calls, he fines players and/or coaches for saying anything construed as critical of an official in the media, he fines coaches and/or owners extensively if they say anything about him personally.
There is no checks and balances. There is no governing body to determine specific punishments on a case by case basis. Those decisions are levied by a committee of one, David J. Stern.
If a basketball player can't carry a conversation with an official regarding a foul call (or lack thereof) and it is symbolic of how a franchise can't carry a conversation with its commissioner, that's not a good sign.
Stern has moved mountains to make the National Basketball Association what it is today. He will undoubtedly be honored in the Hall of Fame for everything he enriched the league with over his lengthy tenure. But the league needs a new leader, much like the NFL did with the shot in the arm they received when Roger Goodell stepped in for Paul Tagliabue.
Someone who can take the best of what Stern did (domesticate the game globally, provide in the community) and couple that with a more democratic, open leadership style. One who will listen to his employees as much as he talks himself.
It wouldn't take much, there's just one person that would have to approve such a change.
That person? David Stern.
Good luck with that.
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