“With the first pick in the NBA Draft, the (insert team name here) select”…
And with those immortal Stern words the career of the next great NBA superstars would begin.
But can you believe that unlike the first and foremost King James, G.O.A.T.’s like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan never heard those EXACT words?
Sam Bowie baby!
But that’s beside the point. As is this. And I’m not trying to name drop here, but just give another example of this great man’s kindness like the countless stream of Twitter tributes and Instagram stories across the timelines yesterday.
Over a decade ago now in 2009 as a rookie writer on my first assignment for SLAM magazine in London, watching an exhibition game between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, I was more nervous than asking someone out on a date for the first time as a kid. In the pregame press conference surrounded by writers from everything from ESPN to the BBC, I didn’t belong. And everyone knew it.
My first question ever in any form of journalism with the microphone and all ears on me was to Commissioner David Stern. The late, great legend who sadly passed away this New Year and decade. The icon of the NBA logo who changed… no as everyone on Twitter are saying, the man who “transformed” the game. He could tell I was so nervous and despite how big his position was, especially in comparison to mine he was so warm, kind and gregarious. I asked him something pretty generic, about the NBA coming to the Big Smoke or something. He answered it like I’d asked him the most important question of the year. He answered it genuinely too. He answered it like the commissioner.
This is just one of countless examples of this. Like when he whispered to an in tears Paul Pierce at his ring bearing ceremony to “slow it down…and enjoy it”, as warm as the wise words of a relative. And that’s kind of what the commissioners, commissioner felt like. Sure Adam Silver is the man these days, but Stern set the gold standard. Jerry West may be the logo, but David made this game iconic.
They talked about the dress code, but like a collaborative fashion statement the leagues best of the best smartened up and now the players entrance runway is treated like a fashion catwalk show. Lakers fans (puts hands up ashamedly…I’ve been going on about it for years) may talk about the Chris Paul nix, but Stern just wanted to keep things fair and competitive. And just look at the latest Lakers/Pelicans trade haul. And those looking to the lockout, remember it’s more than one man. This was about a whole association.
But here’s to what he did. How about it?
When for Queen and country, my England won the World Cup in 1966, the businessman and lawyer Stern entered the league as an outside counsel, becoming commissioner in ’84 and succeeding the trophy himself, Larry O’ Brien, four years after being made veep.
For 30 years (cue the 30-For-30 documentary ESPN and just like ‘The Godfather’, just call it, ‘The Commissioner’), the Hall of Fame became the longest tenured commish and behind the scenes of the Magic and Bird showcase was the man who helped take the game to a whole new level, broadcasting it to billions worldwide as he took off with the Air Jordan iconic logo to the golden era 90’s and all the Iverson and Shaq sized characters that came after.
Exhibiting games in other countries around the globe, Stern brought the spinning Spalding game to all the world’s stage. Expanding it beyond the hoop horizons of traditional basketball borders. Broadcasting in 40 languages in translation to over 200 territories. That meant international players from the late, great Drazen Petrovic to Dirk Nowitzki expanded this sports reach from way downtown. All the way to this man truly being a pioneer for sport as a whole and for everyone who can play it, regardless of those who discriminate on basis or race, nationality or gender. Stern helped spearhead the WNBA which today doesn’t just ‘Expect Great’ but IS that with a Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker for every Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
The NBA development league, League Pass, NBA TV, NBA Cares. They all came from the man who truly did. Just like expansion into Canada and your first-ever champion Toronto Raptors.
This is a Stern tribute telling you that this game and the league of it’s own in it would be nothing without him.