David Stern, who was notably the commissioner of the National Basketball League for over 30 years, has died at the age of 77.
The New York Times reports that he was hospitalized earlier this month due to a brain hemorrhage and had to undergo emergency surgery. Stern was the fourth commissioner of the NBA, taking the reigns on Feb 1. 1984 before handing them to current commissioner Adam Silver on Feb. 1, 2014. Stern was largely responsible for the massive success the NBA has seen through the modern era, transforming it from a fledgling league into the household brand it is today.
His successes primarily came from focusing on the league’s star athletes, with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley being some of the primary names at the start of his tenure. He was known for his marketing savvy. He would utilize cutting-edge marketing strategies and apply them to the league. He notably stood by Magic Johnson when he revealed he was HIV-positive in 1992. He presented Johnson with the Most Valuable Player award at the All-Star Game only a month after he went public with his diagnosis.
His tenure would not be without controversy, though. He was known to be vitriolic and his leadership style could occasionally be referred to as dictatorial. He would often yell at his NBA employees and officials. His decision to institute a dress code in the 2005-6 season for before and after games was often questioned and seen as potentially racist. At the time, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson said the policy was “targeting guys who dress like me—guys who dress hip-hop.” In summer 2011, Stern came under fire as his hard-line negotiating tactics led to a 149-day lockout, resulting in only the second time a labor issue would cost regular-season games.
Despite that, it cannot be understated how much the NBA evolved under Stern’s watch. Whether you loved him or hated him, the NBA would not be the household brand it is today without his years of leadership. He is survived by his wife, Dianne Bock and his sons, Andrew and Eric.