David Stern greets Blake Griffin at the NBA Draft
David Stern greets Blake Griffin at the NBA Draft

David Stern brought basketball to the masses.

After 30 years as commissioner Stern steps down Saturday, giving way to longtime Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.

Stern’s success has been immeasurable, taking over a league on the verge of bankruptcy in 1984 and transforming it into one of the world’s premier, and most profitable, sports. His legacy as commissioner will leave a lasting imprint on all 30 franchises, including the Clippers.

“When I look back at the growth of the NBA during David’s tenure – it is nothing short of exceptional,” said Clippers Owner and Chairman of the Board Donald T. Sterling, whose tenure as an owner predated Stern’s time as commissioner. “When I purchased the Clippers, David was still a young executive at the NBA, so I have been in the unique position and have had the privilege to see him expand and grow the sport throughout the globe.

“The NBA’s unprecedented world-wide growth has surpassed anyone’s expectations and a large part of that is due to David’s vision and leadership. He is leaving the league in a great position for Adam to build on that success.”

Among Stern’s achievements, perhaps, his vision of promoting the NBA as a global game is the most profound. The league has a record number of international players on rosters, is broadcast in dozens of languages worldwide, and has annually expanded its “Basketball Without Borders” campaign which began in 2001.

The Clippers have been a major part of the NBA’s globalization under Stern as well. They played a double-header in Japan against the Seattle Super Sonics to open the 2003 regular season and have played exhibition games in Mexico City, Russia and, most recently, as part of the 2012 NBA China Games in Shanghai and Beijing.  

As the game has expanded, so has the visibility of its players. Stern, whose tenure began during the onset of the Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan eras, helped make NBA players mainstream household names.

“It’s amazing, he’s done this great job of making sure the players are the stars; the stars, are the stars,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “And yet behind the scenes, he’s been a superstar and almost no one has noticed. That’s probably the way he wanted it. He’s going to leave the league better than when he started and that’s a great thing. We’re going to miss him.”

Rivers said the public often rarely gets to witness the “real” side of Stern. When Rivers was fired from his first coaching job in Orlando, he said Stern called him to offer his condolences.

“He just said, ‘Keep your head up. You’re a good coach and coaches get fired,’” Rivers said of his conversation with Stern back in 2003. “It was a very nice thing to do.”

In Stern’s tenure, the league has grown from 23 teams to 30. He’s created the Development League and the WNBA. He’s improved marketing and outreach and diversity. He helped professionalize basketball in the Olympics, which led to the advent of the 1992 Dream Team. He embraced technology and marketed the league in such a way that it touched fans in regions never before thought possible. 

“David Stern has been without question one of the most successful commissioners in professional sports history,” Clippers president Andy Roeser said. “His vision and leadership helped expand and grow the NBA and the sport of basketball throughout the world. Working with David has been an unforgettable experience, and I am thankful to have had that opportunity in my career. I wish him all the best.”


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