Friday, February 7, 2014

How David Stern Helped Build Today's NBA

by: Micah Sokolsky

According to the words of the New York Observer, the NBA’s “annual television revenue was a mere $30 million; drug scandals dominated the headlines; the notion that the league could be a global enterprise was laughable; [and] it seemed more likely that the NBA might go the way of professional boxing or horse racing” (“David Stern’s Legacy”).  In 1984, a young David Stern took the reigns and became the new commissioner of the National Basketball Association. 

During his time as NBA commissioner, Stern did a lot to help the growth of the NBA and had a little bit of luck on his side.  In Stern’s first draft, the 1984 class had five future Hall of Famers (Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and Oscar Schmidt) and several All-Stars.  However, one thing that is most noticeable from this draft was the number one overall pick was international (Olajuwon was from Nigeria); this can be considered a sign of what Stern envisioned for the growth of the NBA as a global product.

When Stern entered the league, there was a major drug problem.  In 1986, Stern banned All-Star, Michael Ray Richardson for life after failing his third drug test.  This suspension sent a statement to the rest of the league that Stern was to squash the drug issue.  Unfortunately, there continued to be drug issues around the league, which included the 1986 drug-related death of potential superstar, Len Bias, and when Stern banned Chris Anderson in the early 2000s for his drug use.  Since then, the NBA has done a great job of keeping drugs out of the league and keeping players safe and healthy.

Another way Stern helped grow the game was the implementation of the NBA Draft Lottery in 1985 in order to prevent teams from losing on purpose in order to get the top overall pick in the draft.  Yet, there has been much conspiracy to several of the lotteries, most notably in 1985 when the New York Knicks won and drafted Patrick Ewing with the top pick.  Stern is from New York and having one of the most famous franchises win the first lottery seemed a bit fishy.  In the 2003 draft, some say Stern would not want LeBron James, the NBA’s next superstar, to be drafted by the Canadian-based franchise, Toronto Raptors and fixed it so James’s hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers would win.  True or false, the lottery system has prevented teams from ‘tanking’ in order to get the top draft pick.

 In the late 1980s and early 1990s the NBA itself grew in popularity with likes of major players (Jordan, Magic, Bird, etc.) and the 1992 Dream Team that won Olympic gold, and major television deals, the league was working on diversifying itself.  In 1996, Stern announced the creation of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), a woman’s professional basketball league.  The WNBA began with only eight teams but has since grown to a twelve-team league.  On a popularity scale, the NBA is much higher than the WNBA, but the sky is the limit for the young league.

In 2001, the NBA Developmental-League (D-League) was created to serve as a minor league system for the NBA.  Eight teams based in the Southeastern United States made up the league of around 120 players.  Since then, the league has more than doubled in size and many teams own the rights to their own D-League franchise, allowing teams to develop some of their young talent.

Since 1984, there have only been three international players drafted number one:  Yao Ming in 2002, Andrew Bogut in 2005, and Andrea Bargnani in 2006.  However, Yao showed off the global impact left by basketball.  Throughout the world, the most popular sport is soccer and has been that way for decades, even centuries!  There happens to be an exception:  China.  In China, there is a plethora of NBA fans and basketball fans, in general.  Many fans wear jerseys from many different teams, but Yao is by far the face of Chinese basketball.  At 7’6’’, he was one of the tallest to play the game.  During his eight-year career in the NBA, Yao put up very good numbers and was an all star eight times and is noted as one of the better, more popular international players to play in the NBA.  Since Yao was drafted, teams have been focusing more and more on international talent.

Around the globe, basketball has grown significantly in popularity.  The Euroleague is one of the strongest worldwide and has produced many talents from the likes of Bargnani, Ricky Rubio, Tony Parker, and Pao Gasol.  In Spain, after soccer, basketball is the most popular sport and the fans embrace their basketball players and have large arenas for their teams. 

To put everything full circle, the first and last players Stern announced during the NBA draft were both international (Olajuwon in 1984 from Nigeria and Namanja Nedovic is from Serbia).  This has put a stamp on Stern’s tenure as commissioner:  globalizing the sport of basketball.

Through all of the critics, I would like to say, Thank you, Mr. Stern for the new dress code; thank you, Mr. Stern for keeping the NBA in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; thank you, Mr. Stern for expanding instant replay to avoid major errors; thank you, Mr. Stern for sticking through during all of the lock-outs; thank you, Mr. Stern for everything you have done for the growth of the game of basketball.  You will surely be missed.

Micah Sokolsky is a Pre-Junior Sport Management major at Drexel University with minors in Spanish and Business.  Micah hails from San Francisco, CA and was a participant on Drexel Sport Management’s College Sport Research Institute (CSRI) team last year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2013.  Micah completed his first co-op with the Camden Riversharks minor league baseball team in their Marketing and Promotions department.  A member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Micah is involved on campus as the Athletics Chairman for the Inter-Fraternity Council and as a Resident Assistant in Race Hall. Connect with Micah on LinkedIn.

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