They passed the torch in the Association, without much fanfare on Sunday, as David Stern stepped down from his post as Commissioner, handing over the reins of power to his former Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. The changing if the guard was far from a surprise, as an announcement was made a year ago that Silver would become the Head-Honcho in the NBA at this time. The former Commissioner reached a milestone in this campaign, serving as the top-man in the NBA for 30-years and he thought it was a fitting time to step down.
There can be no debate that Silver took over the Association in far better shape than the reclamation project his predecessor had inherited. Fans turned off by NBA players being in the news for being busted on cocaine charges abandoned the game. Attendance was scarce and television viewership was in even worse shape. The NBA Finals were being broadcast on a tape-delay basis; shown at 11:30pm local time on each coast. That meant that an East Coast game broadcast in California, would begin seven-hours after the actual tip-off.
A huge part of the resurgence was due to three remarkable players entering the Association; Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. They helped put the game front and center once again and the NBA has had a continuing stream of exciting talented players ever since.
However, Stern played an important role in helping turn around the fortunes of his sport. He became the sports chief marketer, making his vision of the NBA as a global presence a reality. The Commissioner realized the Association’s popularity during the 1992 Olympic Games, when the “Dream Team,” were treated like rock stars by the people of Barcelona. He fanned that flame until it turned into a blaze powerful enough to make his game among the hottest on the planet.
Regular readers of these pages, are well aware that I have been a very vocal critic David Stern over the years. He has displayed pettiness on meaningless issues, such as the length of player’s shorts. He also was in charge during two lockouts that could have sent fans elsewhere on a permanent basis, however the product on the floor was strong enough to bring the people back.
Adam Silver takes over an Association that is starting to feel the effects of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The next few years will be telling ones for the NBA, as we see whether clubs will avoid an onerous Luxury Tax by building through the draft, or if some owners decide to pull out all the stops in pursuit of a title.
The new Commissioner will most likely stick with the same template that his former boss put in place; as why mess with a winning formula? As for David Stern, he leaves the game as a dominant presence and his legacy in place. As the years go by, it most likely lead to him being thought of in a much more light for generations to come.