Yesterday came and went with the death of former National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern dominating discussions in hoops circles. If nothing else, the universal outpouring of sympathy for his family following his untimely demise underscores the depth and breadth of the influence he wielded in 30 years as head of the most progressive professional sports league in the world. So profound was the impact he made that news of his passing overshadowed continued counteraction on The New York Times’ certainly controversial crowning of someone other than LeBron James as Player of the Decade.

Indeed, Stern made the NBA the global force that it is today. He was a visionary; when he took over as head honcho in 1984, he understood the importance of focusing on identifiable personalities instead of teams as a means to broaden the league’s appeal. True, the stars aligned for him; he had such notables as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — and, of course, Michael Jordan — to flash front and center. On the other hand, he knew well enough to market them, and how; were it not for his astute planning and single-minded determination to see his strategies through, they would arguably have kept playing to stadiums with empty seats, and their reach would have been limited at best.

Granted, Stern wasn’t perfect. For instance, he stretched regulations to prevent an otherwise-legitimate trade deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers late in his tenure. Then again, he had far fewer missteps than sure-footed advances, and there can be no doubting his effect on the bottom line from the outside looking in. He worked to give franchise owners bang for the buck, and they saw their trust in him rewarded by significant returns on investment. Even as on-court parity stayed a pipe dream in the face of market imbalances, they found the value of their property rising a whopping 300-fold to 10-figure sums.

Five years removed from retirement, Stern remained in touch with the NBA’s movers and shakers. His counsel kept being asked, and he kept giving them. Heck, even seeming enemies could not help but acknowledge his contributions to the league’s unprecedented growth; Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on whose shoulders he heaped a record number of fines, noted that “you always said you made me, and you were absolutely right. You were a friend, mentor, and administrator of the largest donut fund ever. You are missed.” Enough said.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.