Monday Morning Point Guard
David Stern reached a personal milestone on Super Bowl Sunday, as he marked his 25th anniversary as NBA Commissioner. The NBA has undergone some dramatic changes since Stern succeeded Larry O'Brien on Feb. 1, 1984 -- well before kids wanted to be like Mike, Kobe and Shaq were household names, and LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard were even born.
With the longest tenure of the NBA's four commissioners (Maurice Podoloff, J. Walter Kennedy and O'Brien were the others), Stern has presided over the league's greatest growth and success. Stern served as O'Brien's top legal and business assistant before taking over a league in turmoil. Several teams were losing money, drug problems cast a dark shadow, and the league had a spotty television deal.
But Stern guided the NBA out of the rough patch into a time of prosperity. He established superstars through creative marketing, helped settle labor disputes, increased revenue with lucrative network and cable television deals, and encouraged owners to build newer, sleeker arenas.
Stern has added seven franchises to the NBA and established the creation of the WNBA and the NBA Developmental League. But his lasting legacy will be his vision to expand the game beyond American borders, pushing for basketball to secure the No. 2 spot behind soccer in world popularity instead of settling for third place behind baseball and football in the United States
Here are 10 moments that shaped the greatest dynasty in NBA history -- The Stern Dynasty.
1. Magic-Bird Rivalry
Stern was the beneficiary of an incredible influx of talent when he took over, with Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon leading a heralded draft class only five months later. But Stern arrived with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson -- two already-established and marketable stars in their primes. The duo had played an epic NCAA Final in 1979, but met for the first time in the NBA Finals in 1984. And from 1984 to1989, either Bird's Celtics or Magic's Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals, creating a rivalry that appealed to all fans. The league was rocked, however, on Nov. 7, 1991 when Johnson retired after testing positive for HIV. A back injury forced Bird to retire a few months later.
2. The Draft Lottery
Stern's tenure hasn't been without its controversies and conspiracy theories. The first of both began in 1985, with the implementation of the NBA Draft lottery. Stern pulled an envelope that awarded the New York Knicks with the No. 1 pick -- and Georgetown center Patrick Ewing. All seven "lottery" teams had an equal chance of landing the top pick and some suggested that Stern rigged the results (tipped by a dog-eared envelope) to ensure that his hometown team -- and one of the league's original franchises -- could quickly recover from some hard times.
3. Len Bias's Death
Three days after Stern announced that Boston Celtics had drafted University of Maryland star Len Bias with the No. 2 overall pick, the 22-year-old died of a cocaine overdose in his dormitory room. Bias, who evoked images of Michael Jordan, was projected for multiple all-star appearances and NBA titles. Instead, his legacy would be forcing the NBA into the stiffest of all anti-drug policies. Stern said the most difficult part of his job was when he had to banish repeat drug offenders such as Roy Tarpley and Richard Dumas. The league later avoided the same steroid and performance-enhancing drug problems that plagued baseball and football.
With the successful marketing and popularity of Magic, Larry and Michael creating a huge demand for his product, Stern announced in 1987 plans to add four more teams to his then-23-team league. The Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat joined the league in 1988 and the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves arrived in 1989. Stern became more ambitious in 1995, when he brought the NBA to Canada -- the home of basketball's creator, James Naismith -- and established teams in Toronto and Vancouver. NBA franchise values increased radically under Stern. In 1984, teams sold for $15 million, but when Charlotte was awarded another expansion franchise in 2004 -- two years after the Hornets left for New Orleans -- Bob Johnson had to spend $300 million. Stern has plans to eventually create franchises in Europe in the next decade.
5. Dream Team/Globalization
The NBA had participated in exhibition games against international teams since 1987, which eventually led to NBA players becoming eligible to participate in FIBA competitions, most importantly, the Olympics. The Dream Team, established in 1992, featured most of the stars who lifted the NBA to its heights in popularity -- Magic, Michael, Larry, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley, to name a few. The Dream Team's Olympic demolition inspired a generation of kids from around the world to start playing the game. The NBA then aggressively recruited talents from across the globe, with players such as Germany's Dirk Nowitzki winning the league's most valuable player award, France's Tony Parker winning MVP of the NBA Finals and the fame of Yao Ming helping lead to the creation of NBA China.
6. Jordan's (First Two) Retirements
Michael Jordan's first retirement in 1993 came at such an unlikely time -- he had just led the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive titles and the league was also conducting a probe into his gambling -- that conspiracy theorists suggested that Stern made a secret agreement to allow Jordan to sneak out of the limelight for a while. Jordan came back less than two seasons later, and went on to lead the Bulls to another three-peat from 1996 to 1998. Several "Next Jordans" came and went, but Jordan took several fans with him when arguably the game's best player stepped away, creating a huge void the league -- and even a failed Jordan run with the Washington Wizards -- was unable to fill.
7. The Lockout
Jordan's second retirement erased much of the excitement surrounding the league, but the NBA created more resentment and alienated fans with a 219-day labor lockout in 1998 that resulted in a shortened, 50-game season in 1999. Stern grew a "lockout beard" during the largest work stoppage in league history, an embarrassing stare-down over how to divide nearly $2 billion in annual revenues. Stern and NBA Players Association head Billy Hunter eventually reached an agreement that established "max" salaries for star players, but that financial squabble served as black eye for a league that established stability and viability after installing a $3.6 million salary cap for each team starting with the 1984-85 season.
8. The Youth Movement
Kevin Garnett's voyage from high school to the NBA was viewed as an anomaly -- he was the first player in nearly two decades to make such a bold move. But it became a trend when Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady followed suit. The 2001 NBA draft served as a seminal moment, as high schoolers Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry were three of the top four players selected. The preps-to-pros phenomenon became an epidemic that ravaged college basketball and turned the NBA into a developmental league for unfinished talents. Stern then established a controversial age minimum in 2005, which kept players from entering the NBA until at least one year after their high school class graduated. The next collective bargaining agreement in 2011 could raise the age minimum another year.
9. The Malice in the Palace
Stern dealt with image troubles from the beginning, many of which revolved around such taboo subjects as race. But some of the negative aspects of a brash, hip-hop culture created a bubbling pot that started spilling in 1997, around the time Latrell Sprewell choked P.J. Carlesimo, and boiled over in 2004, when Indiana Pacer Ron Artest ventured into the stands to fight a Detroit Piston fan who threw a cup of beer at him. The brawl was the ugliest in league history and came only a few months after the U.S. Olympic team finished with a bronze medal in Athens. Stern responded with a heavy hand, doling out nine suspensions, including a record-75-game suspension for Artest. A year later, he established a controversial dress code that required players to wear sport coats on the bench.
10. Tim Donaghy
When one of his officials was under investigation for placing illegal bets on NBA games, Stern, usually smooth and collected, was noticeably shaken as he told reporters that he felt "betrayed" by a "rogue official." The scandal provided a face to the long-held suspensions about game fixing, and Donaghy would make more shocking claims before receiving a 15-month prison sentence. An independent investigation by Lawrence Pedowitz supported Stern's claims that Donaghy acted alone, but the NBA took more steps to overhaul how NBA officials are evaluated by hiring retired army major general Ronald L. Johnson to oversee referee operations.
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