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Magic Johnson, Adam Silver, More Pay Tribute to David Stern at Memorial Service

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2020

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 7: NBA Commissioner Emertus David Stern is honored before the game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Toronto Raptors on January 7, 2020 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The life and career of former NBA Commissioner David Stern were celebrated Tuesday at Radio City Music Hall in New York in a private ceremony that included basketball greats of past and present.

Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Pat Riley were among the speakers at the event, which took place three weeks after Stern died of a brain hemorrhage at age 77.

Marc J. Spears @MarcJSpearsESPN

To say that David Stern’s Memorial is well attended is an understatement. #NBA 🙏🏽 https://t.co/qxXYlpbfJE

Johnson delivered perhaps the most poignant speech of the ceremony, saying Stern saved his life by allowing him to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game after his HIV diagnosis. At the time, it was believed that HIV was a death sentence, and there were widespread concerns about the safety of other players by allowing Johnson to compete.

“At the toughest time in my life, my commissioner became my angel," Johnson said, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.

Stern's decision to allow Johnson to play in the All-Star Game set the stage for Johnson to be part of the Dream Team later that summer and make an NBA return in 1996.

“You know a true friend when something bad happens in your life. The man was great because he understood what every individual needed. And he stood next to you because of what you needed," Johnson said

Stern took the NBA commissioner's job in 1984. He and Johnson (and Larry Bird) became intrinsically linked because many credit them with saving the league. At the time Stern took over, the Finals were on tape delay because networks believed the league could not be marketed to a wide audience. Stern's marketing genius kicked in as he promoted the Magic-Bird rivalry in the 1980s and then watched as Michael Jordan took the game to even greater heights in the 1990s. 

Riley was Johnson's coach from 1981-1990 with the Lakers. 

Silver also spoke glowingly of his predecessor, complimenting his "relentless pursuit of perfection." Silver worked under Stern as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for eight years before taking over as commissioner. 

“David said, 'It doesn’t matter what people think about you, but what they feel about you.' What I felt about David, I loved him," Silver said, per Goodwill.

Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Dikembe Mutombo were also among the attendees at the ceremony. 

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