David Stern Dead, Former NBA Commissioner Passes Away At 77

Former NBA commissioner David Stern speaks at a press conference in Manila, Philippines, in 2013.
Mike Young / Getty Images

David Stern, the commissioner whom many saw as the driving force behind the NBA‘s rise in popularity in the 1990s and 2000s, died on Wednesday at the age of 77.

According to a news release posted on the NBA‘s official website, Stern’s passing came almost three weeks after he underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage he suffered on December 12. The former league commissioner was reportedly surrounded by family members, including his wife, Dianne, at the time of his death.

In a statement quoted by ESPN, current NBA commissioner Adam Silver looked back on Stern’s legacy, recalling how he spent over two decades learning the ropes from the man he eventually succeeded. After talking about how his predecessor’s strengths included an ability to prepare for tasks, attention to detail, and a strong work ethic, Silver discussed how Stern transformed the league into a global phenomenon during his three decades as commissioner from 1984 to 2014.

“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. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand, making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”

Apart from using his marketing skills to grow the NBA’s brand, Stern was also credited by ESPN for several reforms during his time as commissioner, including the introduction of a salary cap, a player dress code, and a drug testing policy.

According to Forbes, the NBA that Stern took over close to four decades ago was, at that time, a distant third behind the NFL and MLB in terms of popularity in the United States. The NBA Finals were broadcast on tape delay a few years before he replaced Larry O’Brien as commissioner, while some observers even predicted in the late 1970s that the league wouldn’t survive until the end of the decade. Annual television revenue, meanwhile, was regularly below the $25 million mark during this down period in the league’s history.

Throwing it back to David Stern's legendary NBA draft performance in 2013.

R.I.P. ???? pic.twitter.com/uRD9ZWH1Z2

— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 1, 2020

As the publication noted, that was a stark contrast to how things were in October 2014 — less than eight months after Stern stepped down — when the NBA announced a nine-year extension with multiple television networks, a deal that was estimated to be worth $24.3 billion. Player salaries, likewise, also skyrocketed during Stern’s tenure, with the league’s current average player salary of $7.6 million being more than twice as high as the league’s cap of $3.6 million per team back in the 1984-85 season.

As further recalled by ESPN, Stern’s contributions went beyond his involvement in the NBA itself, which added seven teams and saw six teams relocate to new cities during his time in charge of the league. He was also responsible in part for the creation of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), which launched in 1997, as well as the G League (formerly the Development League), which has since served as a farm system for NBA teams.

In addition to his wife, Stern was also survived by sons Andrew and Eric.