Outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern answers questions from reporters at a news conference prior to the start of the preseason game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers Thursday Oct. 10, at the Mall of Asia Arena at suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
NEW YORK CITY – Halfway through the preseason and in just about two weeks, the NBA will begin its 68th regular season with a marquee matchup between the defending NBA world champion Miami Heat and the redeemed Chicago Bulls. The Heat, under Coach Erik Spoelstra and superstar LeBron James, are the Las Vegas odds-on favorites (2-1) to win the Larry O’Brien trophy and claim a three-peat in June 2014. Trailing not too far behind are the D-Rose reinforced Bulls (8-1) and the OKC Thunder (8-1). Add the Clippers (9-1), Pacers (10-1), the Nets (10-1) and the Rockets (10-1) in the mix and we have an exciting winner-take-all season ahead of clashing basketball titans.
The NBA is one of the most exciting, most followed professional sports league in the world. ‘Nuff said.
But it was not always like this – this league has seen its share of “ho-hum” period, when the league was plagued by the same three or four teams meeting in June for the championship. There were widespread allegations of doping among players, and the teams with the most cash dictated the most number of “ringers” to claim the championship. The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers were staples during this period. There were no salary caps, no luxury taxes, not much of a collective bargaining agreement and the league was followed by a limited number of core fans.
In comes a top lawyer from Proskauer Rose in New York: David Stern, plus his squad of legal and marketing wizards – and within a few years, over the next two decades, the US sees new teams and new championship dynasties: Pistons, Bulls and Spurs cometh! The NBA started broadcasting games outside the local markets and spread like wildfire outside the borders of the United States. First through the US military bases around the globe, followed by international TV broadcasting rights – and the rest is media history.
Commissioner Stern, who started as legal counsel, brought much needed reform to the league, particularly with the players’ union in the 1970s. Taking over Larry O’Brien in 1984, he rolled up his sleeves higher and dug deeper than the efforts made by the executives who integrated the league into the NBA in 1949 (with the National Basketball League and Basketball Association of America); and then again in 1976 (with American Basketball Association).
Stern started at the helm when names like Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other legends flourished. He oversaw the expansion of the team franchises (which includes the new presumptive championship dynasty, Miami Heat) and worldwide television coverage as well as sales of franchise products. The NBA today could not get any better without the stewardship of this pride of Teaneck, New Jersey. He took the NBA beyond the Celtics-Lakers rivalries, into a multi-city, global sports spectacle.
Without Stern – we probably would not have seen the growth of another multi-billion dollar industry – the Nike Air Jordan series. Notwithstanding, we probably would not be mimicking our favorite NBA players in our backyards sporting our favorite AirMax or Hyper Dunks! Quickly, what pair of kicks is Kobe Paras wearing? What’s in a name? It didn’t happen overnight – but the dramatic impact of the NBA in sportswear and equipment and its influence on people’s lives are and should probably be added as a full course in business management program. Add to this a slew of league offshoots: WNBA, Development League, League Pass, iHoops, NBA Cares, et al.
This season will be marked by the culmination of the NBA’s most proactive and ambitious executive in David Stern – whose remarkable tenure and leadership brought growth to a league that is now the top US and global professional basketball hegemony. After over 35 years of official service to the league, David Stern will be stepping down on February 1, 2014 and will be passing the torch to Adam Silver.
Dr. James Naismith went as far as witnessing basketball as an Olympic demonstration sport at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, but he probably did not envision the worldwide growth of basketball and a league like the NBA explode as in a proverbial “Big Bang” as we all know it today.
Just last week, the Philippines witnessed its first ever NBA game at the Mall of Asia – with Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets trouncing the Indiana Pacers, in front of the biggest fan base outside of the US. It was a warm sight to see NBA players in Metro Manila’s neighborhoods, including one of its best executives flank a blue NBA Global Games jeepney – a true sign of sports and market globalization. Kevin Durant and OKC were in Turkey; D-Rose and the Bulls in Rio de Janeiro; the NBA has a legitimate global reach. The preseason will continue to extend to a feverish pitch worldwide as the NBA Global Games reaches eight cities in six countries this month.
We certainly are not ready to write off and say goodbye to the main man at the corporate headquarters here in New York City. We are simply reminded, in Commissioner Stern’s final season as an active executive, that the league is simply no longer the NBA that started from small basketball leagues of the NBL and BAA playing at podunk American towns in the 40’s. Rather, it is now and will continue to expand as a global sports and entertainment phenomenon – which, in no small part is due to the Stern watch.
Adam Silver will have really big shoes to fill. But no worries…
The NBA is red-hot. Odds are, after the Stern exits, it will remain bullish around the world, served on a Silver platter.