On December. 12, former NBA commissioner David Stern suffered a brain hemorrhage and had to undergo emergency surgery. Three weeks later—on the first day of 2020—he passed away in Manhattan at the age of 77.
Renowned for his vision, one-of-a-kind sense of sarcastic humor, and tough-love leadership, Stern received tributes from many of the game’s biggest names, including Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.
Current league commissioner Adam Silver, who worked closely with Stern before succeeding him at the top post, sang Stern’s praises.
“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action,” Silver said. “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.”
Much of basketball’s ascension can be attributed to Stern.
“When I got to the NBA in 1984, which was commissioner’s first year, the average salary was $250,000. It’s almost $9 million now,” Charles Barkley recently said. “And he is largely responsible for that.”
Indeed, he managed to lead the league to a more than 30-fold increase in revenue, narrating how that growth happened in a keynote speech for the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at UMass just two months before his passing.
An attorney by training, Stern held the NBA’s top position longer than any commissioner in American Big 4 history. In his 77 years, Stern became one of the most impactful and universally respected figures in professional sports history. Here are seven of the most influential moments from the 2014 Naismith Hall of Famer’s storied career.