David Stern, the NBA commissioner during the most successful period in league history, has died, the league announced Wednesday. He was 77.
Stern died as a result of the brain hemorrhage he suffered three weeks ago. His wife, Dianne, and their family were with him at his bedside, the NBA said.
“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action. He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “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.
“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. 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.
“Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration. Our deepest condolences go out to David’s wife, Dianne, their sons, Andrew and Eric, and their extended family, and we share our grief with everyone whose life was touched by him.”
Stern was commissioner for three decades and shepherded the league into the global market. He helped expand the game on the backbone of the NBA’s star players, highlighted by the Dream Team’s impact at the 1992 Olympics.
The NBA itself grew under Stern. Seven teams joined the league, and six relocated. Stern also helped in the creation of the WNBA, which had its inaugural season in 1997, and the NBA Development League, now known as the G League, providing countless opportunities for players to pursue careers playing basketball in the United States that previously weren’t available.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern. The WNBA will be forever grateful for his exemplary leadership and vision that led to the founding of our league,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “His steadfast commitment to women’s sports was ahead of its time and has provided countless opportunities for women and young girls who aspire to play basketball. He will be missed.”
Stern’s tenure overlapped with two of basketball’s all-time greats, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Stern became commissioner in February 1984, the year Jordan entered the league. Stern stepped down from his post three decades later in 2014, the year after James won his second NBA title.
James paid tribute to Stern on Instagram, writing in part, “Thank you for your commitment to the beautiful game of basketball that has changed so many young adult/kids lives and more importantly your vision to make our game become WORLDWIDE was a vision only you could make happen! You did just that. Making our game the greatest sport in the world!”
Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, echoed those sentiments.
“Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before,” Jordan said in a statement. “His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him — and I admired him for that. I wouldn’t be where I am without him. I offer my deepest sympathies to Dianne and his family.”
Stern and the NBA also endured labor strife over the years. The first four lockouts in NBA history occurred with Stern as commissioner. The 1995 and 1996 lockouts did not result in lost games, but lockouts in 1998 and 2011 led to regular seasons that were shortened to 50 and 66 games, respectively.
Information from ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk and The Associated Press was used in this report.