Legendary NBA Commissioner David Stern dies at 77 years old

Simply put, today’s NBA as we know it would not exist without Commissioner Emeritus David Stern, who died on January 1, 2020, after being hospitalized since December 17 with a brain hemorrhage.

From his focus on the epic rivalry between Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and its ability to captivate a nation, to his ardent advocacy for the global expansion of the game, Stern’s legacy is as lasting as it is expansive. He was named the NBA’s fourth commissioner in 1983, succeeding Larry O’Brien (after whom the association’s championship trophy is named) in 1984. That same year, a young guard out of the University of North Carolina named Michael Jordan joined the league, and the rest was history.

Or it could have been, anyway. Surely, Jordan’s ascension took the NBA to lofty heights, as Stern guided the league through its explosion of popularity. Yet Stern never rested on his laurels, and he certainly refused to allow the league to do the same.

The likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James grew into worldwide icons of the highest order in the post-Jordan era, then Stern helped open the NBA’s doors to new audiences with the arrival of Yao Ming to the Houston Rockets. And as the Internet matured and transformed the wider entertainment landscape, Stern and the NBA made the prudent choice not to crack down on piracy of highlights, turning the league into an undeniable social media behemoth.

Stern announced his retirement on October 25, 2012, stepping down on February 1, 2014, as Adam Silver took the reins. Stern never really left the basketball ecosystem, however. From time to time, a reporter would ask for his thoughts on topics like sports betting, the future of the in-game fan experience, or player usage of marijuana, and he’d happily oblige with his opinion. For if there was one thing Stern was not, it was shy.

His passing was met with an outpouring of support from the NBA and sports community befitting a legend of his stature:

Writers, journalists, and others also shared their best Stern stories after the news broke:

Stern will undoubtedly be missed, but we will leave you as we think he would have wanted: with a compilation of all of the boos he received — and all of the joy he had in relishing the heckling — in his final NBA Draft in 2013. Rest in peace, David Stern.