David Stern, Former NBA Commissioner, Dies at 77

David Stern, the longtime NBA commissioner who transformed the league through television deals and other media partnerships, died Wednesday, three weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 77.

“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action,” current NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends. We spent countless hours in the office, at arenas and on planes wherever the game would take us. Like every NBA legend, David had extraordinary talents, but with him it was always about the fundamentals – preparation, attention to detail, and hard work.”

Silver credited Stern with modernizing the league after taking over in 1984 when the game was at a crossroads.

“But over the course of 30 years as commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world,” Silver said.

Stern retired as NBA commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014 after a 30-year tenure. In recent years, Stern worked as a sports and media consultant under his DJS Global Advisors banner, with clients that included the NBA. Stern also worked with private investment firm PJT Partners and venture capital firm Greycroft Partners. He was a frequent speaker on the business and media conference circuit.

On Nov. 15, Stern and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman swapped stories and insights about brand-building during a lively session with AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan at the Paley Center for Media’s International Council Summit in New York. Bettman worked with Stern at the NBA before moving to the NHL.

Bettman hailed Stern as his mentor and longtime friend in a statement.

“He was a man of great vision and energy who was responsible for the operational and business advancements that created the modern sports industry,” Bettman said. “David taught me how to be a commissioner and, more importantly, how to try to be a good person.”

Stern worked for the NBA for most of his career. As a lawyer with Proskauer Rose, he represented the league as outside counsel starting in 1966. In 1978, he joined the NBA as general counsel.

Two years later, Stern advanced to executive VP of the league, after working on initiatives such as establishing a drug-testing system and a salary cap formula that helped league owners enjoy labor peace with the NBA Players Association for a decade.

Stern took the reins as commissioner in February 1984. One of his first big moves was to sign a $20 million TV contract with Ted Turner’s TBS. That established a partnership with Turner that has endured to the present day for contracts that now run into billions of dollars.

David Stern was a true visionary and brilliant architect of the NBA’s rise from a highly successful sports league to an admired global brand,” Turner Sports said in a statement. “His impact will be felt for generations to come.”

On Stern’s watch, the league expanded by seven times, and saw a 30-fold increase in annual revenues. The league now operates in 12 countries, and its games are on the air in some 215 countries and 49 languages. The NBA under Stern’s direction was active in policing substance abuse among players and imposing fines and suspensions for brawls.

A New York native who grew up in New Jersey, Stern attended Rutgers University and Columbia Law School. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2014.

Survivors include his wife, Dianne, and two sons, Andrew and Eric.

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