Regardless of his 5-foot-7-inch frame, stout build, and that rather unsavory mustache that began his commissioner’s tenure in 1984, David Stern brought coolness and sophistication to the NBA. Soon-to-be wealthy men a foot taller clamored to shake his hand on draft night, and the league became the first to bond with hip-hop culture, making a successful partnership.
The NBA was a moderately successful league before Stern took over for Lawrence O’Brien, who ensured it would be the most prominent basketball league by sucking in the American Basketball Association’s top four franchises and eliminating the competition. Stern ensured that the league would not only survive in the changing economy of the 1980s but also flourish and shake its well-deserved reputation of a league that ignored its drug issues. The Stern administration has been wildly successful despite a series of warts and speed bumps. He will step down in February 2014, having orchestrated perhaps the most prosperous 30-year run of any professional sport. NBA Finals games were on tape delay before Stern took over, with fans having to turn their heads when their local sportscast displayed the final score.