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David Stern left his mark on NBA


January 5, 2020

I never met former NBA Commissioner David Stern, but it felt like a distant family member was gone when he died on the first day of 2020.

Some of my favorite David Stern anecdotes:

• He was particular about pigs in a blanket as an appetizer. At catered NBA functions people in the know wouldn’t touch other appetizers because they were saving room.

• Years before Stern became commissioner in 1984, he fought housing discrimination. As president of the Fair Housing Council in New Jersey, he would send a white family and a black family with equal assets, credit histories and references to a real estate agency and see if the families were shown the same neighborhoods.

• The New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets received an overwhelming team owner vote in 1994 approving a name change to the Swamp Dragons and a new logo and color scheme. Stern shut it down.

As former Nets President Jon Spoelstra told ESPN’s Zach Lowe: David called me screaming, “What the f--- is going on?” I asked what he was screaming about. He told me the vote came in, 26-1, in our favor. Well, that’s terrific. What’s the problem? He told me: “No, that isn’t terrific, because the one dissenting team was you — the Nets.”

The Nets had seven part owners and rotated on league votes. David Gerstein wasn’t a fan and it was his turn to vote.

Stern wasn’t a fan either, telling Spoelstra and another Nets executive, “This is the stupidest f---ing idea I’ve ever heard.” When asked about the comment, Stern responded, “If they say I said that, I’m sure I did.” But he stayed hands-off, correctly assuming Nets ownership would kill the idea themselves.

I disagreed with Stern on plenty of things. His player dress code placated critics and corporate sponsors, and fans didn’t really care. Raising the minimum age requirement punished 18-year-olds who could play in the NBA because teams couldn’t stop themselves from drafting 18-year-olds who couldn’t.

My favorite memory of him, was his handling of a particularly clunky CNN interview during the NBA All-Star break. The league was reeling from the “Malice at the Palace,” a postgame brawl between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans that led to a full-year suspension for Indiana’s Ron Artest.

Stern was asked about the optics of the fight on the league. “What I liked about your question,” Stern said (I’m paraphrasing), “is that you took long enough to ask it that your video guys ran the fight footage twice. Do you want me to give you a long answer so they can cue it up again?” If he thought you were being disingenuous, he didn’t hold back.

Stern left the NBA in 2014, but his fingerprints are still all over the league. Adam Silver, who Stern mentored to succeed him, is the best commissioner in sports. The NBA’s best players come from everywhere because Stern grew the game globally.

NBA players will wear black patches on their jerseys in Stern’s honor for the remainder of this season I hope a more permanent tribute is on the way. Rest in peace, Commish.

Kevin Wilson is editor of the Eastern New Mexico News. He can be contacted at 575-763-3431, ext. 320, or by email:

[email protected]


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