Timeout! David Stern’s departure reminds us of the opportunities created under his tenure
So, what happened a couple of weekends ago? There was some big game that I remember was supposed to be played. Some kind of Terrific Bowl or Super Game or something? I know it was supposed to go on, but there was only one team on the field from what I saw. Don’t get mad Broncos fans. I’m a huge Peyton Manning fan myself, but it is what it is. I hope Manning’s body holds up for a couple more chances. His season deserved a much better ending.
But, now that football season is finally over, I can turn my full attention to my first love: basketball- more specifically, NBA basketball. The season heats up with the All-Star festivities in New Orleans this weekend. What I really want to focus on, is the retirement of NBA commissioner David Stern, who is stepping down after 30 years at the helm of professional basketball. Stern stepped down Feb. 1, when he handed the reins to Adam Silver.
The pundits have weighed in with different talking points about what Stern accomplished on the nationally and international level during his tenure as commissioner. Stern has made leaps and bounds to increase the image of the NBA. He took a sport that was seen on tape-delay during the Finals to a sport that has television contracts worth billions. Yes, billions of dollars.
Another thing that Stern did for the league, was to grow the game internationally. Which was expedited by the exposure of NBA stars during the “Dream Team’s” historic 1992 Olympic games. This was the first time that professional basketball players were allowed to compete in the games. The results of which can be seen today in that the league is made up of about 30 percent foreign-born players and players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are just as popular in countries like China as they are in the U.S.
The most important thing that Stern did for the NBA was make it so African American coaches like Maurice Cheeks, who was fired by the Detroit Pistons this week, can be fired and there be no doubt that the next candidate for the position will be hired because of his ability to coach and not the because of the color of his skin.
It’s appropriate, that during Black History Month, I can write that the employment field in the NBA is as level as it could possibly be, especially for African American coaches. It may not be that people are judged by the content of their character – as the famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. goes- but, they are judged by how many wins they can lead the team to. And that’s the way that it should be. (Much respect to Missouri football player Michael Sam for coming out before the NFL Draft – may he be judged only by his play on the field.) It should be this way not only in professional sports, but in all aspects of life.
The rest of the big professional sports leagues, while improving, still lag behind when it comes to minority coaches. One of the worst offenders is the glacially stagnant college football hiring practices - and yes, I’m counting NCAA college sports as professional. Don’t get me started on that.
I know that Stern had his flaws during his run as Commissioner of the NBA. It was said that he was usually the smartest guy in the room and didn’t mind letting you know that. He was also said to be a tough negotiator, which may explain why the NBA had a couple of work stoppages on his watch. The yelling match that he got into with Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade during the last round of collective bargaining with the NBA Player’s Union is legendary.
The NBA is the most diverse league when it comes to employment and ownership. In fact, the NBA’s first African American majority owner, was none other than Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson. He later sold the Bobcats to Michael Jordan, making Jordan the second African American majority owner in the NBA.
Stern’s involvement has also been crucial in the continuing existence of the WNBA, which has been in business for over a decade, and continues to give young women a place to play professional basketball at the highest level in the United States. As one of the only professional leagues available for women, Stern has been adamant about keeping that league alive.
So was David Stern a perfect man? No. But his legacy goes beyond just making money for the NBA. He also made his league and in turn the world a little more color-blind. That’ll do commissioner, that’ll do.