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The above NBA commissioner, who ran the alliance until 2014, anesthetized abroad on Wednesday at the age of 77. The alliance saw aberrant advance during his tenure, acknowledgment abundantly to his success in business players to the media. However, Stern was abundant beneath acquisitive to allay the columnist aback he was the article of attention. What follows are the greatest hits of three decades of SI’s advantage of arguably the best successful, and mysterious, abettor in the history of sports.

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The aboriginal diffuse account of the awfully ambiguous commissioner, by E.M. Swift in the June 3, 1991 issue, was completed alone afterwards addition SI writer, balked at the abridgement of access, gave up on the project.

“From Corn Beef to Caviar”

We accessible with David Stern striding aloft a appointment table—surrounded by television executives, gesticulating theatrically, debating a point with his nimble, sharp—edged wit—not because this is the modus operandi of the abettor of the National Basketball Association, but because the angel fits. Alike if the accident never happened (and there those who agnosticism that it did), it fits. 

“I absolutely don’t anticipate he has the activity to do that,” says Howard Ganz, a associate of Stern’s aback their Columbia Law Academy canicule in the mid-’60s and a accomplice at Stern’s above law firm, Proskauer Rose Goetz and Mendelsohn.

“No, I never heard of him jumping on a table,” says Larry Weinberg, administrator emeritus of the Portland Trail Blazers. “I agnosticism he could jump that high.”

Even Stern can’t absolutely anamnesis the incident, although he stops able-bodied abbreviate of abstinent it. “It’s absolutely plausible, but as a aphorism I don’t angle on tables,” he says. “I am an abiding pacer.”…

To absolutely accede area the NBA is and area it is headed, we allegation aboriginal attending aback to area the alliance was aloof a decade ago. In the 1980–81 season, 16 of the NBA’s 23 teams absent money. Total actualization was bottomward about a actor from the year before, and teams were arena to an boilerplate of alone 10,021 admirers per game, about 58% of the accommodation of their arenas. The worst-run authorization in the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers, absent added than $4 actor while affairs alone 28% of its seats in ‘80-81….

Business the ancient way was, appealing much, every authorization for itself. “There was added accordance in the streets of Paris during the French Revolution than there was in an NBA owners’ meeting,” says one alliance executive. Chargeless bureau had beatific salaries ambagious upward, and the catechism became not whether the alliance would accept to shrink, but how abounding teams would accept to be canned. “In 1982, afterwards dozens of meetings, we came to the cessation that we were about to lose a half-dozen teams,” recalls Russ Granik, who at the time was the NBA’s accepted counsel. “We absolutely set up a board to abstraction how we were activity to do that.”

Out of this abysm stepped Stern. The son of a Manhattan cafeteria owner, Stern was a attenuate amalgam: a ablaze adolescent advocate who was adored with business instincts, business faculty and a convincing faculty of humor. Strangest of all, he was likable. He remembered people’s names. He took an absorption in their families. He was, one hears over and over again, a approved guy. A little sarcastic, perhaps, but afterwards a beggarly cartilage in him. “David Stern dismisses the aphorism that nice guys accomplishment last,” says Michael Goldberg, a above accepted admonition of the American Basketball Association. “David’s ancestor ran a acknowledged cafeteria in New York. To be acknowledged in that business, you accept to accept abundant affinity with your customers. You accept to get them to appear back, alike if the corned beef is a little dry and the angel pie a little stale. You accept to accord the chump a smile, a affable greeting, a faculty that he is actuality taken affliction of. David Stern understands that, and I don’t anticipate it would be bizarre to say that he has activated that to the NBA.”…

Why basketball? Why now? “Every action has a altered niche,” says Stern. “Baseball is loaded with attitude and has all those admirable statistics. Green grass. Fresh air. Family. Football has that alcove of acquisition on Sunday afternoons, actual amorous followings, few games. Basketball, I think, is actual contemporary. Our players accept become about like entertainers. That’s a alcove that somehow evolved.”

“David came in and looked at the NBA and saw it as article added than aloof sports,” says Pistons bouncer Isiah Thomas, the admiral of the Players Association. “It’s absolutely aloof entertainment. It’s a Michael Jackson tour, a Rolling Stones tour. He saw it as an NBA tour.”

One of the models that Stern dangled afore NBA owners was Disney. “They accept affair parks,” says Stern, “and we accept affair parks. Alone we alarm them arenas. They accept characters: Mickey Mouse, Goofy. Our characters are called Magic and Michael [Jordan].”


In 1998 the NBA was the alone of the Big Four leagues never to accept absent amateur to a assignment stoppage. That afflicted with a lockout that lasted added than six months, shrinking the division from 82 to 50 games. The accord that adequate activity accord In January of ’99 (albeit temporarily) was a aural win for the owners.

“To the Victor Belongs the Spoils”

David Stern is the linebacker who slams the ballcarrier to the accommodation and afresh affably picks him up and pats him on the butt. He’s the basin aerial who cleans out his victim’s wallet and afresh gives him cab book home. That’s about what Stern, the NBA commissioner, did to the National Basketball Players Affiliation aftermost ceremony aback he gave the atrocious abutment a few face-saving concessions to coin an agreement, catastrophe the 191-day activity argument and salvaging an abbreviated division that will alpha on Feb. 5. He accustomed the abutment to accumulate its abode but took about aggregate else.

After the adjustment on Jan. 6, Stern insisted that Billy Hunter, controlling administrator of the players’ association, had affected him to accord up added than he wanted. Stern additionally adumbrated that he’d had to explain himself to those owners who wondered why he hadn’t gotten a bigger deal. He wasn’t aloof actuality magnanimous; he was being, as always, shrewd. Stern knows he needs the cooperation of the abutment to win aback the admirers and that it would serve no advantageous purpose to accord alike the aboriginal actualization of abrading it in.

But alike if he doesn’t appetite to about accept it, Stern won a battleground victory. He fabricated the NBA the alone one of the four above pro leagues to accept a best salary. He rendered agents, such as his nemesis, David Falk, clumsy to drive behest wars for their audience into the stratosphere. He fabricated it accessible for teams to authority on to their abstract choices for bristles years—two years best than beneath the accomplished aggregate acceding agreement–before those players become complete chargeless agents. There’s little account that one aggregation admiral said there was “dancing on the tables” aback Stern laid out the accord to the owners.

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Stern won… which was no surprise; he about consistently does. That’s why the owners had the acceptable faculty for the aftermost six months to accumulate their mouths shut and let him work. While the players were talking too much–first putting their hightops in their mouths with antic comments that showed how out of blow they are with the boilerplate fan and afresh affliction the union’s account by absolute how atrocious they were to settle–the owners let Stern be their voice. It’s accurate that they had a gag adjustment with the blackmail of a six-figure accomplished blind over their heads, but these are wealthy, able men. The abhorrence of autograph a analysis didn’t accumulate them quiet. Confidence in Stern did.


As the 2005–06 division anguish down, Stern sat with SI’s Phil Taylor to altercate the accompaniment of the league—including the challenges complex in convalescent from the “Malice at the Palace” and the ensuing, arguable dress cipher he instituted.

“Q&A: NBA Abettor David Stern”

SI: One of the agency in which the alliance has approved to change the way admirers actualization the players is with the dress code. Some would say that aloof able stereotypes—that a anorak and collared shirt indicates “nice guy,” and billowing jeans and baseball caps angry alongside indicates “thug.”

DS: Maybe it did. Look, aftermost season’s argument in Detroit [the Malice in the Palace] gave every bi-weekly writer, every sports-talk host and every call-in actuality the befalling to generalize and alarm every NBA amateur thugs and punks. If you accede that’s what was activity on, the catechism becomes, What can we do to advice our players actualization who they absolutely are? And one of the answers may be, Let’s annihilate the affair of dress, O.K.? [The guidelines] may assume small, insignificant, and they apparently are, but the activity was, Let’s get rid of the symbolism.

SI: Is there a book that would accomplish you accept to get complex in the Knicks’ problems?

DS: (Long silence.) I mean, you know, there’s a cycle. Some teams are luckier, some teams are not. Some teams are bigger managed, some teams are not. It happens.

SI: You’ve been abettor for 22 years. Aback you assuredly do leave this job, what will you do?

DS: I’m still a lawyer. Afterwards airing my political views, there some awfully important issues, injustices and inequalities that the apple needs to address. And I anticipate those would absorption me greatly. Or maybe I’ll address for Sports Illustrated. I accept my eye on [Rick] Reilly’s job.


Prior to the 2006–07 season, SI’s Jack McCallum was arrive to accompany Stern on a five-country, eight-game, seven-day bout of Europe, during which Stern schmoozed, cajoled, teased, challenged, lectured and charmed sponsors, accumulated executives, players, coaches, NBA employees, journalists and fans.

“The Apple According to David Stern”

Nov. 8, 2006

For addition who has been in the accessible eye for so long, Stern has been appreciably acknowledged in deflecting requests to participate in behind-the-scenes profiles. He has agreed to this one alone afterwards some agreement and on the compassionate that the NBA’s all-embracing business (page 63) will comedy a arresting role in the story. (Stern will no agnosticism anticipate it’s not arresting abundant and will accomplish his animosity known.) Over the advance of the trip, pieces of his claimed activity blooper out, admitting rarely does he action them.

For example, Stern admired the agreeable Jersey Boys, the adventure of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He thinks of himself as a cantankerous amid a Manhattanite (Stern’s Cafeteria was in Chelsea) and a Jersey boy (he confused to Teaneck at age 12 and abounding Rutgers). He was, he says, 114th in a chic of 530 at Teaneck High; he still remembers the stats.

In the accomplished bristles years Stern has had a few arthroscopic knee surgeries and sometimes limps slightly. But he played recreational hoops as a adolescence and looks to be, and says he is, in accomplished shape. He watches his diet and drinks booze sparingly, admitting on active canicule he does bail in the caffeine. He additionally has an cureless candied tooth. (On the alike he tears into the disgusting-looking cake accepted as Swedish Fish.) He plays tennis regularly, generally with his wife of 43 years, Dianne, a freelance writer. (They met through ancestors accompany in Teaneck and affiliated during Stern’s aboriginal year at Columbia Law School.) The two additionally adore demography continued walks and hikes; on David’s alone absolute day off during the European tour, the brace legged it for hours through the streets of Paris….

It troubles him that the alliance is added accomplishing business in countries with abhorrent or at atomic ambiguous government policies.

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“Believe me, the China bearings bothers me,” Stern says one day, traveling amid Paris and Cologne. “And a articulation at home [he agency Dianne, who is added abrupt about backroom than he is] reminds me about it all the time.” He sighs heavily. “But at the end of the day I accept a albatross to my owners to accomplish money,” he says. “I can never balloon that, no amount what my claimed animosity adeptness be.” Sterndoesn’t aggrandize on that thought, which is atypical; his apperception is annihilation if not lawyerly, able to clamber about and through the best afflictive questions. But the alley to China is blowzy with abstract acreage mines, and as the NBA snuggles up to Beijing, it will be absorbing to see if Stern speaks out aback he’s troubled….

As one campaign with Stern, it becomes adamantine not to analyze him with addition advanced and pragmatist. David Joel Stern is, indisputably, the William Jefferson Clinton of commissioners. They accept met on several occasions, and Stern and his wife allocution with account of Clinton’s affability and his adeptness to clarify on about any subject. The abettor is boilerplate abreast as absorbing or as apparent as the 42nd president, but he’s a bedrock brilliant compared with his peers: Gary Bettman and Roger Goodell appear beyond as well-dressed attorneys (which they are), and Bud Selig is as artful as a alone accouterments salesman.

“Charisma is at some akin the art of apropos to people,” says Don Luongo, a retired U.S. Secret Service abettor who sometimes works as Stern’s one-man aegis force, “and that’s what the abettor is all about.” Luongo knows about charisma, accepting been assigned to both Clinton and Ronald Reagan, men he holds in aerial admire for their adeptness to affix to the masses. “Plus, Mr. Stern’s activity akin is off the chart,” says Luongo. “People feel that. I feel that. I augment off it.”

Like Clinton, Stern additionally relishes actuality the active adamant man, the alpha macho who outworks, outschmoozes and outlasts anybody abroad in the room. He could clasp in a abbreviate nap at the Swissôtel in Moscow, but accepting begin the bench coffee lacking, he aback catch his easily and, aural like a aerial academy kid acclimation a beer party, says to a anchorman and two NBA employees, “Hey, let’s go to my room! I’ve got a abundant cappuccino machine!” And all curb there. Later, en avenue to the ambassador’s abode afterwards the game, Stern dozes, openmouthed, but aback cuts into a chat with a animadversion about Russian basketball history.

“My alone explanation,” whispers Andrew Messick, arch carnality admiral of NBA International, from the bench abaft the commissioner, “is that he hears aback he sleeps.”


After absolutely 30 years on the job, Stern was succeeded as abettor by Adam Silver on Feb. 1, 2014. McCallum reflected on Stern’s career.

“I Did it My Way”

Feb. 10, 2014

Several of the disquisitions acclamation the end of David Stern’s administration accept acclaimed that the NBA will access a kinder, gentler actualization beneath the commissionership of Adam Silver. That is a low bar absolutely aback Stern, over the advance of three decades, has fabricated owners cave, players quake, abutment leaders kowtow, advisers cry and reporters grovel. And that was all afore 10 o’clock on a Monday morning.

But that is about a amount of authoritative style. The key catechism is: Now that Vlad the Impaler has ceded ascendancy to Mahatma Gandhi, what aberration will it accomplish to the game?

The alteration of ability went quietly—given the adumbration casting by Super Bowl XLVIII—last Friday afternoon at the NBA offices in midtown Manhattan. Stern and Silver fabricated a collective videoconference actualization to the NBA’s 1,200 employees. Accurate to the affiance he had fabricated in an SI account a ceremony earlier, the 71-year-old Stern did not get afraid up. “I’m activity too acceptable about things to cry,” said Stern. It is not accepted if any NBA advisers wept, either from affliction or relief.

Silver takes over a alliance that is in tidy actualization acknowledgment to Stern, who came aboard as the league’s arch admonition in 1978 and took the reins from Larry O’Brien six years later. The allegation for Silver is to abide to, in Stern’s pet phrase, “grow the game” while advancement the we-are-the-world mentality that has fabricated the NBA the U.S. alliance of best overseas….

[Everyone] knows the admeasurement of the wingtips he has to fill. Over the aftermost few weeks allusive metrics accept been cloudburst out of the NBA appointment that authenticate the transformation of the alliance beneath Stern. Consider:

• Alliance acquirement in 1984, the year Stern became commissioner: $165 million.

• Alliance acquirement in 2013: $5.5 billion.

• Gross retail commodity sales in 1984: $35 million.

• Gross retail commodity sales in 2013: $3 billion.

• Bacon cap in 1984, aback Stern instituted it: $3.6 million.

• Bacon cap in 2013: $58.1 million.

On and on it goes. To a allocation of the population, though, those numbers beggarly nothing. The NBA is still déclassé and destined to abide so….

From addition perspective, though, a adolescent one perhaps, the NBA couldn’t be healthier. TV ratings are bigger than ever; the ability of its supernovas (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, alike a crumbling Kobe Bryant) outshines those in any added action (with the barring of Peyton Manning); and the alliance is advancing on abroad shores. And there was one D. Stern on a contempo Letterman account the Top 10 things he has abstruse as a commissioner. (No. 6: I’m the alone guy in the alliance who was bar mitzvah’d.) His achievement was hardly Emmy-worthy, but it’s ambiguous that Bud Selig will get that alarm aback he accomplish down.

How abundant Stern was amenable for all the advance charcoal an arresting question, the boardroom analogue to Is Phil Jackson a abundant drillmaster or did he ride the Michael-Shaq-Kobe alternation to 11 championships? Both accept no absolute answers, admitting this one is hereby proffered:

Just as Jackson wouldn’t accept been as acceptable afterwards the alpha dogs, and the alpha dogs wouldn’t accept been as acceptable afterwards Jackson, so it is that Stern would not accept done about as able-bodied afterwards the supercharged catalyst provided by the stars of the 1980s, and the NBA would not accept done about as able-bodied afterwards the hard-charging braniac business faculty of Stern.


Taylor Ballantyne

Four-and-a-half years into his retirement, Stern (reluctantly, of course) accustomed SI’s Chris Ballard into his apple for a day.

“Pressing Forward”

Oct. 22, 2018

His was a triumphant, anxiously choreographed exit. On Feb. 1, 2014, afterwards a nice annular anniversary, Stern handed the job to his best successor, Adam Silver. Six months afterwards Stern was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

What Stern didn’t do, in any way, actualization or form, was retire. “He hates aback bodies say that,” says Silver. No, Stern will explain with exasperation, as if you are a third-grader who forgot his appointment yet again, all he did was footfall down. And aloof so we’re clear: He did so on his terms. Because backward is article old bodies do. Boring people. Bodies clashing David Stern.

Even so, you could be forgiven for bold that he had. In the bisected decade since, Stern has mostly alone out of accessible view. No account to brighten his legacy—despite what he describes as “many, many” entreaties from arcane agents. (“Too self-important,” he explains. “Just cerebration about it gives me a rash!”) Stern agrees to exceptional interviews, which are usually abrupt or esoteric. Occasionally, he shares anecdotes—how he already exhausted Donald Trump at doubles tennis, for example—but rarely does he go into detail because, he says, “I don’t do war stories.” On the contrary, he’s fabricated an accomplishment to absolute his exposure. Upon audition that his Q&A at Seton Hall in April with above players affiliation arch Charlie Grantham is now on YouTube, he says, “Was that recorded? Oh s—.” The acumen for this reticence, Stern says, is that, “There can be alone one commissioner.”…

Most weeks Stern spends his Monday at Greycroft, the New York City adventure basic close area he is a arch adviser. Fridays he tries to booty off. The majority of the time, though, he works in his ample office, which has the feel of an acutely ablaze museum. His board is anxiously organized; pencils afar from pens, an NBA-branded announcement pad, a ripped-out bi-weekly adventure on top of ample folders. (Stern, who prefers account to books, pores over three affidavit in book anniversary day.) The added accessible spaces are abounding with photos of Stern alongside assorted important folks: Mandela, Bill Clinton, Phil Jackson, Magic, Ronald Reagan. His Columbia law amount hangs on one wall. On addition is a Sacramento Bee banana band depicting him as Superman, printed afterwards he formed to accumulate the Kings in boondocks in 2013.

Stern’s canicule are abounding of deeply amassed meetings. The antecedent day, amid added things, he had: filmed a blow at NBA address for the Hornets’ 30th anniversary; visited with the admiral of the EuroLeague; met with an exec from Paddy Ability Betfair; talked investments with a broker over lunch; sat with NHL abettor Gary Bettman’s son, who works for a tech firm; and met with, “someone adopting $260 actor to do podcasts—don’t ask.” He prefers to do business in actuality or on the phone, alike if it feels antiquated. “We accept adolescent friends, they don’t alike acknowledgment their goddam phones,” he laments. “If you don’t email or text, they don’t respond. A accomplished added bearing out there.”…

“I’m not abiding I would accept been the appropriate guy in 1984, aback David became commissioner,” says Silver. “David had to action every footfall forth the way for account for the NBA. I affiliated a actual altered situation. A absolute league, one that was acutely still on the ascent. The allegation for me was: Don’t spiral it up. David was faced with an absolutely altered set of circumstances. Whether David adopted his personality for the times or that’s who he consistently was, I’m not sure.”

I’d add to that: Does it matter? Apparently not, admitting I doubtable that he was built-in that way. If I abstruse one affair about Stern, it’s that he’s one of those bodies whose hobby—whose passion—has consistently been the aforementioned as their job. The acumen he didn’t change advance afterwards abrogation the NBA is because what he absolutely basic to do was what he’d already been doing, what he’d consistently basic to do, what he will consistently appetite to do. Be in charge. Be the smartest guy in the room. Get complex in added people’s business afore they get complex in his. Tackle one addle afterwards another, activated not by the analytic but the ability that addition addle awaits, and addition afterwards that. The absolute abhorrence is of a time aback no added exist.

So why attending aback aback you can attending forward, peeking about the abutting corner, and the one afterwards that? Why bacchanal in the accomplished aback tomorrow awaits?

How abundant best will he accumulate accomplishing this? I ask Stern. “Until whenever,” he says. “Why anticipate about the end?”

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