David Stern, the former commissioner of the National Basketball Association widely credited with leading the league through a period of tremendous growth, died Wednesday. He was 77.
In a statement, the NBA said Stern had died “as a result” of a brain hemorrhage he suffered Dec. 12. At the time, ESPN reported that Stern underwent emergency surgery after he collapsed at a Manhattan restaurant.
“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action,” Adam Silver, Stern’s successor as commissioner, 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.”
Many NBA legends and executives paid tribute to their former commissioner once learning of his passing.
Stern worked at the NBA for more than 35 years, beginning with his hiring as the league’s general counsel in 1978. He became the league’s executive vice president two years later and succeeded Larry O’Brien as league commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. He remained in the job for the next 30 years before stepping aside in favor of his longtime deputy, Silver, in 2014.
During Stern’s tenure, a league that had trouble securing live telecasts of its championship series a few years earlier became an industry raking in over $5 billion a year, while basketball became one of the most popular sports in the world after soccer. Under Stern, the NBA would play nearly 150 international games and be televised in more than 200 countries and territories, and in more than 40 languages, and the NBA Finals and All-Star weekend would grow into international spectacles. The 2010 All-Star game drew over 108,000 fans to Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a record to watch a basketball game.
As part of its growth, the NBA expanded from 23 to 30 teams during Stern’s tenure, though some expansions were more successful than others. While the Miami Heat have won three NBA titles since entering the league in 1988, the Vancouver Grizzlies lasted just six seasons in their original home before moving to Memphis in 2001. Stern was also widely criticized for supporting the move of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City, leaving one of the NBA’s most fervent fan bases without a team.