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Stern's legacy shaped by global success

by Max Rappaport, Sixers.com
Posted: February 3, 2014

On Friday, David Stern turned over the post of NBA Commissioner to incumbent Adam Silver after holding the office for 30 decorated seasons. Over those three decades, Stern oversaw the development of the league in just about every facet of its operations.

In 1984, he inherited the 23-team league and was able to secure expansion franchises in Miami, Orlando, Toronto, New Orleans, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Memphis, upping its total to 30. He took a league that had not long before his tenure been forced to televise its Finals on tape delay and helped it overtake Major League Baseball’s World Series in terms of viewership. And, most importantly, he grew the NBA into a global product, helping basketball become the second-most popular sport in the world behind Soccer.

It’s that globalization of the game that many believe will be Stern’s most lasting legacy. You can count Sixers head coach Brett Brown among those who agree with that statement.

“(I have a great) appreciation for what David Stern has done,” Brown told reporters on Friday. “This is truly a global sport – the NBA logo means something… His runs are on the board, and what he’s done for the sport is amazing.”

Brown, perhaps more than any current head coach in the NBA, has seen the effects of that globalization firsthand. A native of South Portland, Maine, he spent 17 years coaching professional basketball in Australia following a four-year playing career at Boston University. He served as a coach for Australia’s national team in three Olympic Games and two World Championships, traveling the world and facing teams from every corner of the globe.

“To go to Tiananmen Square and see a hundred outdoor courts, and see you can’t get a game, the place is rolling,” Brown said of his experience at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. “And (in terms of viewership), you have a bad Australian team playing, and 400 million people (in China) are watching the game.”

Having spent seven seasons with the NBA’s most internationally diverse team, the San Antonio Spurs, Brown has also seen the ways in which the global reach of the sport has affected play on the court. In 2012-13, his last season with the Spurs, nine of the 16 players who donned black and silver throughout the year were born outside the United States – primarily, they hailed from western nations. Brown added Friday that he expects the league to see more and more imports from Africa and Asia as more resources are put into youth programs in those regions.

“You see what’s going on in the Africas through basketball without borders,” Brown emphasized. “The level of basketball in China – where they have 300 seven-footers in their under-20 program – (is similarly impressive).”

Nobody could have imagined when Stern took office three decades ago that the NBA would be where it is today, and only time will tell what’s in store for the league over the next 30 years. 

One thing’s for sure, though… The world will be watching.