David Stern, the NBA’s bewildering commissioner, has announced that he is retiring on Feb. 1, 2014. That would mark the 30th anniversary of when he started the job, meaning that David Stern has been the commissioner of the NBA longer than some people (people who may or may not be writing this very sentence) have been alive. That is a very long time to commission something!
Stern is a bewildering figure because Stern was such an unusual, forceful presence atop his league. He’s not a nobody or a figurehead; most NBA fans know him by name, even if they can’t name all the players on their bench in any given season. He has done some very good things and is as responsible as anyone not named Michael Jordan for transforming the league into the popular powerhouse it is today.
He was also oddly enamored with his own power, something we saw time and time again in the bizarre ways he chose to act out. Why institute a dress code? Why belittle players while negotiating with them during the 2011 lockout? Why institute a meaningless age limit that does nothing but add 12 months to the time before a player can join the league, thus removing 12 months from said player’s career, depriving them of 12 months of earnings?
The league’s expansion to 30 teams is both a positive and a negative, because I can’t complain about a period that saw the birth of my Miami Heat. At the same time, there’s no question that the league has diluted its talent base. The growth of the NBA as a global brand is an admirable thing, if only because the league is richer for an influx of players from outside the U.S.
We still have him to boo for another 16 months, so it’s not like this is goodbye or anything. (Adam Silver, the league’s deputy commissioner and the guy we only ever see during the second round of the NBA draft, will take over.) I’m sure he’ll have at least one more inexplicable, utterly out-of-left-field idea to confound us before he exits.