New York After 25 years of taking the NBA around the globe, David Stern still isn’t ready to stay at home.
Not when so many challenges remain, so many new opportunities exist to grow the sport. And certainly not when he still loves the game of basketball so much.
So as Stern this weekend reaches the 25th anniversary of his appointment as commissioner, one of the longest and most successful tenures in sports history, nobody seems to think the NBA needs to start hunting for his replacement anytime soon.
“Obviously he’s been maybe the best commissioner of all-time in the 25 years,” New York Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. “He’s had a large hand in the success of the league up to this point and the makeup of the league up to this point. He’s got a lot to be proud of, but knowing David, he’s not done. He’s a very vibrant guy, and I’m sure he has a whole head full of ideas about how to make it better than it is today.”
Stern won’t share what those ideas are, declining all media requests to discuss his silver anniversary. He’s not interested in talking about himself when his preference is always to talk about the game.
Others were glad to do the speaking for him.
“David saved the NBA,” said Sacramento Kings owner Gavin Maloof, whose family owned the Houston Rockets before Stern took over the league. “When we sold the team, he became commissioner I think shortly after that, or close to that, and really the NBA was headed for disaster and he saved the league.
“The league had a lot of problems. There was disinterest, there was no fan interest, no big TV contract. I mean, David single-handedly saved the NBA.”
There are times when the NBA looks much the same as it did when Stern replaced Larry O’Brien and became the league’s fourth commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. The Boston Celtics would beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals a few months later, just as they did last June.
Yet so much has changed. Seven new teams have been added since then, bringing the league’s total to 30, not to mention the creation of the WNBA and NBA Development League, providing countless opportunities to pursue careers playing basketball in the United States that previously weren’t available.
Stern’s legacy is tied more to what he has done to take the game to other countries.
He proudly boasts that the NBA played regular-season games in Japan way back in 1991, or that two-thirds of the players on the medals podium at the Beijing Olympics were NBA players. The league currently plays preseason games in Europe and China, and its All-Star and NBA finals games have been televised in hundreds of countries.
“Our game is global now and I don’t think you could say that about it even 15 years ago, said two-time MVP Steve Nash, one of the NBA’s most accomplished international players. “It wasn’t quite global, so 25 years ago it was archaic, nonexistent by global standards. So he’s done a marvelous job at spreading the game and growing the game.”
Stern has grander plans. The league has set up offices in China to capitalize on its wild popularity there and hopes to build a similar presence in India. He said there will be regular-season games in Europe before the 2012 Olympics in London, and has spoken hopefully of placing NBA teams on that continent within a decade.