Heat players thankful for David Stern's tenure
MIAMI — David Stern will have some rings to hand out Tuesday to the Heat. Miami forward Shane Battier will have something for Stern.
Stern announced Thursday he will retire as NBA commissioner Feb. 1, 2014. So when he greets the Heat before their regular-season opener, it will mark the next-to-last time he honors a defending champion.
“I’ll hug him because I enjoy my life,’’ Battier said Friday when reflecting upon Stern’s tenure since he took over in 1984.
Battier said he’s been thinking plenty about Stern’s legacy since Thursday’s announcement. He’s come even more to the realization of how fortunate he is to be playing in this era.
“We’re doing something that we would be doing for free, playing basketball for a living. The fact that I’m able to make this my career and earn a significant amount of money speaks directly to David Stern’s genius,’’ said Battier, a 12-year veteran who has made more than $50 million in his career. “The guy really was an innovator, and I don’t know if we’ve seen a marketer and a businessman like him in the sports arena before. When he took over the league, the league was riddled with drugs and with bad basketball and no marketability. To turn it into what it is now, it’s a huge testament to David Stern.’’
Plenty of tributes about Stern came from Heat players Friday before they faced New Orleans in their preseason finale. Forward LeBron James, the world’s biggest basketball star, talked about how he has been aided by the NBA’s advancement under Stern.
“He’s done so many great things for the league for what the league was when he entered to where it is now,'' James said. "It’s a global game. His visions have led to that for this game to be, not only broadcast here in America, but in so many different countries …. That was his vision. Of course, it wasn’t all him. But he had that vision and the people around him helped him execute that. So he’s made this game global. And I’m happy that I’m able to benefit from it and everybody in the league is able to benefit from it.’’
Had the current NBA rules been in effect when James was drafted, he would have had one less year to benefit.
James entered the NBA directly from high school in 2003 before the league, starting with the 2006 draft, required players to attend college for a year.
Stern pushed for that rule. But James has no qualms with that.
“The rules are the rules,’’ James said. “I live by the rules. I was in position where I was able to come straight out and it’s benefiting me.’’
Tuesday will mark the second time Stern has handed out rings to the Heat. The first was at the 2006-07 opener, four months after Finals MVP Dwyane Wade led Miami to its first crown.
Wade was among those who reflected Friday on Stern, who will be replaced in about 15 months by deputy commissioner Adam Silver.
“He’s made an impact on this game. There are arguably a lot of things that you can say about David negatively and things positively from the standpoint of growing the game,’’ said Wade, who didn’t want to go into any of those negative things. “He’s grown this game tremendously. He’s a tough cookie, it’s no secret about that. But he’s had an unbelievable run of being a leader, the head, and hopefully Adam will come in next and continue to make this game as great as it is for when my kids play one day.’’
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who is half Filipino, talked about the diversity there is now on coaching staffs and in front offices since Stern took over.
Spoelstra, who regularly travels overseas during the offseason, said the NBA is now far ahead of other U.S. pro sports leagues when it comes to popularity abroad.
“It’s just worldwide now,’’ Spoelstra said. “Now this is arguably the second-most (popular) global sport in the world (after soccer), and it would have been impossible to have imagined that 30 years ago …. When I go to Asia, you see so many NBA jerseys and you see obviously the soccer jerseys. But you don’t see the other American pro sports jerseys at all.’’
In China, where he is extremely popular due to his shoe deal with the Chinese company Peak, plenty of Battier jerseys are seen. That’s just one of the reasons why Battier wants to hug Stern.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson