Fans will miss David Stern for the good or bad

There was much rejoice by sports fans when NBA commissioner David Stern announced his retirement date for Feb. 1, 2014 on Thursday.

No matter how much you like or dislike Stern, the sports world will miss him when he retires.

Stern has emerged into a sports executive that fans love to hate. In his 28 years as the NBA’s big boss, fans have either praised or bashed every move that Stern has made for the sake of basketball.

What people will remember about Stern’s legacy right away are the awful decisions he made over his career.

The average fan will easily bring up how rigged the NBA looks.

The Tim Donaghy betting scandal in 2007 that marred referees’ reputation forever. The 2002 Western Conference Finals that was ref-friendly toward the Los Angeles Lakers.

The “bent envelope” that was pulled out in the 1985 NBA Draft to give the New York Knicks the No. 1 pick.

The league-owned New Orleans Hornets “winning” the No. 1 draft pick in 2012.

The trade involving Chris Paul going to the Lakers that was nixed in 2011 due to “basketball reasons.”

The list goes on.

Stern will also get criticized for a lot of miscellaneous things that happened to the league. He allowed two lockouts in his career that forced the NBA to miss games for financial troubles, and he enacted a league-wide dress code that many critics felt it was to prevent players from expressing their hip-hop culture. The worst fan-player brawl “Malice in the Palace” in 2004 will also be forever associated with Stern’s name.

Stern is simply an easier icon to bash in sports.

Even throughout all of these nasty events, Stern has still brought good to the NBA (yep, you read that correctly).

Fans don’t realize that Stern has expanded his game more than any professional sports commissioner has, ever. Before the 1980s, the NBA struggled to attract fans and sell tickets, and pro basketball looked like it was going to fold. Stern globalized basketball to the point where it is safe to say it’s the most popular sport in the world besides soccer. Basketball is popular in all six of the world’s inhabitable continents (including an estimated 1.3 billion fans in China, according to the New York Times), yet the NBA remains as the world’s premier league even despite the sport’s international growth.

The NFL, MLB, NASCAR and the NHL don’t even come close to rivaling the NBA’s overseas success.

It did help that Michael Jordan came to the league in Stern’s first-year as commissioner.  Jordan ended up evolving as arguably the most marketed professional athlete in American history, but its difficult to tell whether to say Stern or simply Jordan himself was responsible for the MJ boom.

Besides Jordan, other superstars’ popularities have elevated more than any player before the Stern era, other than maybe Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Basketball fans pay to see the best players in the world perform, and Stern’s business model has capitalized on that.

And regarding the dress code, it has made NBA players look much more classier, and every game seems like an opportunity for a GQ photo shoot.

Stern won’t end his career as the greatest commissioner in sports, but neither he will go down as the worst. The NBA has named an excellent successor in Adam Silver, but Silver’s fan influence simply won’t be the same as what David Stern had.

Whether it’s by applauding him for how he grew basketball or trashing his negative moves, fans will miss talking about Commissioner Stern.

It’s impossible to not talk about him.

 

Reach the columnist at jnacion@asu.edu