Former NBA commissioner David Stern died Wednesday due to a recent brain hemorrhage, the league announced. He was 77.
Stern suffered the hemorrhage on Dec. 12, reportedly when he collapsed at a New York City restaurant. He underwent emergency surgery later that day.
The league said Stern’s wife, Dianne, and other family members were at his bedside when he passed.
Stern was NBA commissioner from 1984-2014 and greatly increased the stature of the league during his tenure. Longtime lieutenant Adam Silver replaced Stern as commissioner.
“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action,” Silver said in a statement. “He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends. We spent countless hours in the office, at arenas and on planes wherever the game would take us. Like every NBA legend, David had extraordinary talents, but with him it was always about the fundamentals—preparation, attention to detail, and hard work.
“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.
“Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration. Our deepest condolences go out to David’s wife, Dianne, their sons, Andrew and Eric, and their extended family, and we share our grief with everyone whose life was touched by him.”
Stern was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Stern joined the NBA as general counsel in 1978 and became executive vice president in 1980. Four years later, he began his lengthy run as commissioner.
During Stern’s tenure, the league became a multi-billion dollar business. ESPN Stats & Info said league revenues were at $165 million a year when Stern became commissioner and were $5.5 billion in 2013 before Stern’s retirement.
Also, salaries rose from an average of $290,000 in 1984 to $5.7 million in 2013, according to Stats & Info.
In addition, aggressive marketing ventures increased the popularity of players starting with the likes of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and continuing with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
“Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today,” Jordan, now the Charlotte Hornets owner, said in a statement released through the team. “He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before.
“His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed.”
Johnson’s standout career was interrupted in 1991 when he was diagnosed with HIV. He cited that Stern’s support during that time was essential and forever appreciated.
“Cookie and I are devastated to hear about the passing of my longtime friend and former NBA Commissioner David Stern,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “A great man, husband, father, friend, businessman, and visionary, I loved and respected him.
“David Stern was such a history maker. When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand. When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world.”
Charles Barkley, the former star player who now serves as a TNT analyst, also had high praise for Stern.
“He was an innovator, he was a great businessman,” Barkley said in a television interview. “Let me tell you something — I who have screwed up many times, when you are in his office alone with him, it is probably one of the most uncomfortable things that could happen to you in your life. …
“I can’t thank him enough for being a father figure for all of these guys. … We all have had great lives because of David Stern. We all owe a debt of gratitude for David Stern. We lost a legend today. He is the greatest commissioner in sports history, plain and simple.”
Two seasons were shortened by player lockouts during Stern’s tenure and he introduced the salary cap and drug testing.
Seven new teams joined the league and he also oversaw the controversial move of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City for the start of the 2008-09 season.
The NBA developmental league — now called the G League — was formed and the WNBA (a women’s league) came into existence.
“My heart is heavy today,” Hall of Fame women’s player Sheryl Swoopes said on Twitter. “Mr. Stern thank you for the impact you made on my life and so many others. Without you there is no WNBA and for that I am grateful. You will truly be missed.”
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a former player, said Stern brought the NBA out of the dark ages and into a brighter era.
“I think David Stern made probably a bigger impact on the game than any non-player in the history of the NBA,” Kerr said. “When I think about when he took over as Commissioner in the early 80s and where the league was—Finals games on tape delay, salary cap at $4 million total—and to think where it is now, David Stern really led the expansion of the league.
“He had the vision to set the league on a course where it is today. So everybody that is part of the NBA, we all owe him a great debt of gratitude for his service, his impact and everything he has done for our own individual lives.”
Hall of Famer Bill Russell, a star player in the 1960s with a reputation for being reclusive, expressed his thoughts on Twitter.
“I cannot put into words what the friendship of David Stern has meant to me but many others,” Russell wrote. “He changed so many lives. David was a great innovator and made the game we love what it is today. This is a horrible loss. Our hearts are with Dianne & their family. RIP my friend.”
Stern held the title of “Commissioner Emeritus” at the time of his death.
Stern was born in New York City in 1942 and was a Knicks fan while growing up in New Jersey.—Field Level Media