Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who was also a Henry Rutgers Scholar and is in the Hall of Distinguished Alumni at Rutgers, sadly passed away at the age of 77 on Wednesday. He recently suffered a brain hemorrhage and unfortunately never recovered.
The 1963 Rutgers graduate went on to earn his law degree from Columbia University before serving as the lead general counsel for the NBA in 1978. He then became commissioner in 1984 and oversaw the league during it’s most successful period in its history. Stern was a savvy marketer who greatly increased the popularity and reach of the NBA worldwide. He had likeable stars to work with including all-time greats Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson at the beginning of his tenure, as well as Lebron James at the end of it. After 30 years as NBA commissioner, Stern has since been inducted to both the Naismith and FIBA Hall of Fames.
“We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Commissioner Stern,” said Rutgers Director of Athletics Pat Hobbs. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Dianne and his family. I will forever treasure his guidance and counsel, and his humor. He was a very proud Rutgers alum. His was a remarkable life.”
Former deputy commissioner under Stern and now NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, ”David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand -- making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”
While Stern always stayed in the background of Rutgers basketball during his decades long NBA career, he was seen at Madison Square Garden watching his alma mater against Wisconsin three seasons ago. Hobbs stated in this article from Keith Sargeant after that game that Stern had become a unofficial senior advisor for him. Credit Hobbs for getting Stern back in the fold.
The only personal anecdote I have on Stern was about when he spoke at Rutgers commencement many years ago in 1990 when I was 13 years old. My father worked at the University and spoke to him after his speech. He mentioned that his son loved and played basketball in school. Stern took the NBA pin off of his suit lapel and included it with a personalized note to myself, offering encouragement. It was a classy gesture he made to a complete stranger and did so totally out of the spotlight.
Stern was the ultimate leader, always making decisions on what he thought was best versus what would be most popular. He was infamously booed during the First Round of the NBA Draft year over year. Instead of being defensive or indifferent, Stern used to revel in it and encourage it with a smug smile and taunting comments on stage before announcing picks over the years, In his last draft in 2013, he delivered an all-time performance (video below) and I always though it was a fitting power move with the NBA fan base.
Although short in stature, his legacy is one of a giant in not just the game, but within the sports world for all of time. His impact on the NBA was massive and forever changing, making him arguably the greatest commissioner in sports history. As a fellow Rutgers alum, I’m sad that his life ended too soon and that he didn’t get to see the basketball team break its NCAA Tournament drought, currently at 29 years. Rest In Peace, David Stern.