For three decades, David Stern served as the commissioner for the National Basketball League, helping it become one of the premier sports leagues in the world. Stern passed away at the age of 77 on January 1.
Although he never played the game, early on Stern was involved in one of the landmark decisions in sports as an attorney in the Robertson v. National Basketball Association case. The antitrust lawsuit brought by NBA legend Oscar Robertson set the tone for the league’s modern free agency rules.
In 1979 under Commissioner Larry O’Brien, Stern joined the NBA as its General Counsel. The following year, O’Brien promoted Stern as the executive vice president for business and legal affairs, which is when his ideas of marketing the league began to take form. With Stern in his new post, he introduced drug testing as the league had several key players abusing cocaine, and also brought forth the salary cap agreement.
In 1984, Stern took over as commissioner and he began expanding the NBA’s global platform via pilot deals with cable and television outlets. This led to the expansion of teams in Canada and in smaller markets domestically with a fanbase locked and loaded to support a new franchise.
However, not all of Stern’s move gained praised as his strict dress code policy seemingly targeted the league’s top Black players, with Allen Iverson hitting back at the policy.
“They’re targeting guys who dress like me, guys who dress hip-hop,” Iverson said in response ahead of the 2005-06 season. “I think they went way overboard.”
Stern stepped down in 2014, passing the reigns to current commissioner Adam Silver.
He is survived by his wife Dianne Stern and two adult sons.