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article imageStern ends historic 30-year run as NBA commissioner

By Jim Slater (AFP)     Jan 31, 2014 in World

David Stern steps down on Saturday after 30 years as commissioner of the NBA, a reign that saw him transform the league from a downtrodden afterthought into a global sporting powerhouse.

The 71-year-old son of a New York deli owner revitalized the NBA with business and marketing moves that took full advantage of the skills of such stars as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James.

"This has been a great run," Stern said. "I've had a lot of fun."

A league that had some playoff games shown on tape delay when Stern began now telecasts the NBA Finals into 215 nations in 47 languages.

"We had to get the finals off tape delay," Stern said. "We had not to cut out franchises. We had four getting ready to file bankruptcy."

NBA Commissioner David Stern receives the key to the city from former league player and now Mayor of...
NBA Commissioner David Stern receives the key to the city from former league player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson, during a game between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, on October 30, 2013
Thearon W. Henderson, Getty/AFP/File

The once-weak NBA now generates $5.5 billion in annual revenues, has a worldwide fan base, teams worth an average of $634 million and players who average $4 million in annual salary.

"I'm very happy with where we are," Stern said. "I'm looking forward to perhaps traveling for the NBA on an international basis and enjoying watching its continued growth."

Stern's tenure, the longest among active US sport league bosses, will end Saturday when Adam Silver, the long-time NBA deputy commissioner, takes over Stern's job exactly 30 years to the day when Stern's reign began.

"He has been the commissioner for the last 10 years. They just haven't given him the check," Stern said. "He is going to be great. Everything we have done for at least the last 22 years we have done together."

NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media before Game One of the 2013 NBA Finals betwe...
NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media before Game One of the 2013 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, on June 6, 2013
Mike Ehrmann, Getty/AFP/File

Mark Tatum, the NBA executive vice president of global marketing partnership, will take Silver's former job.

Stern was hired as the NBA's general counsel in 1978, a year before Bird and "Magic" joined the league and the same year the NBA made its first step overseas when the Washington Bullets plated Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.

Stern became commissioner in 1984 and guided the league through good times such as the US Dream Team of NBA stars at the 1992 Olympics and the steady rise of team values as businesses as fan interest grew worldwide and business operations expanded to China, Europe and India.

"We had a few international players, a few international markets," Stern said. "This season we started with (a record) 92 non-US-born players on our rosters."

The league expanded from 23 to 30 teams and the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls are all valued at $1 billion or more.

Stern navigated the rough waters, including money disputes with players resulting in lockout-shortened seasons in 1999 and 2011-2012 but also bringing a salary cap and luxury tax rules that leveled expenses and brought a measure of parity to teams.

Owner of Dallas Mavericks  Mark Cuban  yells at the officials during a game against the Utah Jazz  a...
Owner of Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, yells at the officials during a game against the Utah Jazz, at EnergySolution Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 31, 2012
George Frey, Getty/AFP/File

Stern helped solidify the NBA's image after a brawl between Indiana and Detroit players spilled into the stands among spectators and bolstered the league's credibility when referee Tim Donaghy was found to have made calls to alter outcomes to aid gamblers.

When Magic Johnson announced in 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus, Stern sat beside him.

Stern banned players for life over drug issues in the 1980s, cleaning up the league's reputation and even imposed a dress code to help turn NBA players into marketing icons -- none morse so than Jordan -- as well as GQ fashion stars.

"I'm proud of the fact our players who didn't used to be so well regarded are now well respected on the court as well as off the court," Stern said.

Stern showed a lighter side Wednesday, appearing on David Letterman's talk show and reading a tongue-in-cheek list of things he learned as commissioner.

Among them: "When international diplomacy is required, call Dennis Rodman"; "Our least-paid mascot made $5 million a year"; "I'm an inspiration to short, unathletic kids everywhere" and "I hear sneaker squeaks in my sleep."

And Stern delivered one last fine to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on January 18, a $100,000 one for criticizing officials on the court.

"I couldn't let the comish go without a proper farewell," said Cuban, whose 20 fines over the years cost him a total of $1.9 million.

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