By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
Longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern is planning to step down on Feb. 1, 2014. After 30 years as the NBA’s top executive, he’ll leave behind a league that saw tremendous success under his reign.
On the other hand, “reign” is an apt description of the legacy of Stern’s tenure. He had to make many difficult decisions, often under heavy pressure from owners and the consistent threat of declining ratings. Many of these decisions were criticized as causing some of the most notable problems during his time.
The four NBA lockouts Stern presided over weigh heavily upon his resume, though only two of the lockouts resulted in game cancellations. Furthermore, he has been accused of unethical behavior. During the 1985 lottery, for example, Stern picked a supposedly marked envelope out of the tumbler that ensured Patrick Ewing would go to the New York Knicks. From the dress code, to countless suspensions handed down from the league office, he’s certainly left his mark on the controversial issues in the NBA over the past three decades.
Most recently, the lockout from last season has left a negative taste in the mouths of many NBA fans, particularly because Stern clearly placed himself on the side of the owners during negotiations, causing animosity between himself and the players. Despite the owners sharing the blame for the problems that caused the lockout, Stern seemed like the greedy politician in negotiations that ultimately wound up favoring the owners.
Perhaps the most egregious abuse of power came after the lockout ended last season, when Stern vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. The argument was that a team owned by the all of owners collectively (as Paul’s Hornets were at that time) could not make such a trade. Nevertheless, it was only a short time before Paul was traded to the Clippers instead, a move still chastised by NBA fans.
It’s easy to criticize Stern and point out all the controversies that will stain his legacy. However, it’s also important to note the league enjoyed more success under Stern than ever before, and that he is leaving the NBA in good shape with a solid group of young stars.
Some fans will remember the lockouts and the controversies. Others may remember the success. Still more might view him as the showman he has been during every draft night, encouraging the raucous boos he annually receives from the crowd in attendance. I’ll remember him as the guy that looks like Kermit the Frog.
From here, it will be up to Adam Silver, the deputy commissioner pegged to replace him, to find a path of his own and to continue the NBA’s popularity and success.
Despite the criticism, I wish the commissioner good luck, and I hope his replacement can avoid the same pitfalls and power struggles that plagued Stern.