He will retire in February of 2014, handing power over to his longtime deputy,
So what is his legacy?
In 1984 the NBA was a very different league. The sport's premiere event, the
The four-year deal for national television with
Stern understood the concept of branding and marketing. He pushed the players to be as attractive and media friendly in their public appearances as possible. He saw the natural rivalry and star power of the
Stern realized how shoe companies could help build the brand, especially Nike, and how that would lead to endless hours of free exposure for basketball. As technology progressed, he became adept at utilizing every platform of content supply, Twitter to mobile phones to reach fans. He pushed the creation of an NBA network. He had NBA players compete in the Olympics starting with the 1984 Dream Team. That led to outreach world-wide and the internationalization of the NBA as a world sport.
He saw the potential in China and other foreign markets. He understood the concept of star power. He was fortunate to have the
The economic explosion occasioned by the reshaping of the NBA was dramatic. Revenue increased exponentially. National television increased from a USA/ESPN/CBS combined package for the league of $28 million per year to the TNT/ESPN/ABC package of $930 million per year. This doesn't count local or regional television contracts.
The Lakers signed a deal with
Television revenue has a direct effect on franchise value. The Lakers value expanded to an NBA-high $900 million based on their Time Warner deal. The
Jerry Reinsdorf bought the
The players were beneficiaries of the new financial largesse. The average salary of an NBA player today is $5.15 million. The highest paid player in the league is Kobe Bryant at $27 million. Keep in mind that many rosters have "maxed out superstars" and players at the $300,000 minimum.
Endorsement revenue can more than double the on-court income of a player like Kobe. NBA players have the advantage over other sports that fans can see their bodies and faces clearly and their shoe-wear translates into every day wear.
When it came to labor negotiations, the mask of cordiality disappeared from Stern and a harsher, more bullying side emerged. It was evocative of the corporate theory of "Bulwarism" which evolved in the labor negotiations of the 1930s.
Management scientifically decided what was the only rational position for both sides and was unwavering in the face of all odds. As meticulously as he protected the NBA image in other areas, he was content to endure strike after
Ego and arrogance aside, Stern radically changed the scope and popularity of the NBA in a way that has benefited fans, owners and players and it is doubtful that a figure that omniscient will rise soon again.