It seems hard to believe the change that will occur Saturday.
David Stern will step down Saturday as NBA commissioner after 30 years at the helm. A lot has happened in those 30 years too. While not all of it can be attributed to Stern, he was there to usher the whole thing in. His leadership put the NBA in a position to take advantage of the storm that was coming in marketing and international exposure.
When David Stern took over the NBA, the league was mired in a perception problem and had to deal with drugs and a public not captivated by the sport. He ends his tenure running, perhaps, the second most popular sport in the world and a league with large television contracts and a more than solid fan base.
Noone can say Stern was not a huge success. And the story of the work he did was captured perfectly in David Aldridge of NBA.com's oral history.
Pat Riley: I really like David. When you're with somebody for — basically, I've been in the NBA for 46 years, since 1967 — and he was in since the same time, and we sort of took the same path together. And we always crossed paths, because I became a coach, and for the last 35 years, there's been a lot of communication, greetings and things, penalties that would come down, and arguments that we'd have on the phone. He'd call me on the phone and say 'This is what's going to happen to you; if you don't do this, this is going to happen. I'd call back: 'That ain't fair, you're not being fair with us.' And then he'd call back and say 'I'm being fair with you, but I made a decision, and this is what's going to happen with you, this is what's going to happen to them. That's it. It's over with, it's off my desk, it's done, it's finished.' He's very decisive that way. For the most part, when I would always say 'I think we're getting the raw end of the stick here,' I think he would do what he had to do. And he never really played favorites with anybody. And he did a lot of good things.
No doubt Stern had his detractors and people who bristled under his seemingly authoritarian rule. But there is also no doubt that Stern had the game's interests in mind and did a lot to grow the sport and making it the multi-billion dollar industry it is now.
The league and the sport is in a good place as Stern exits the office.
And for an entire generation of fans, Stern's tenure as commissioner is all they know. Someone like me does not even know another commissioner in NBA history (I am 25 years old). He has been an all-encompassing figure in the NBA since then. Seeing another signature on the basketball and announcing the Draft will be somewhat strange.
But all things must change and Stern's work is apparently done. It is amazing to sit back and reflect on it all.