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When it comes to interviews, there’s nobody more unpredictable or entertaining than NBA legend Bill Walton. Walton, who won NBA titles with the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics, was at it again this week as a guest on Kenny Mayne’s Hey Mayne podcast.

After an interesting introduction, Walton and Mayne reminisced about their longtime friendship and their time together at ESPN. The two spoke about various topics, including family, music, and sports. At one point, Walton took charge, rattling off six factors, he said, that made sports what they are today. One of those factors was someone who Walton believes is the NBA’s most important person ever.

Bill Walton revealed who he believes in the most important person ever in the NBA

Former Boston Celtics player Bill Walton attends Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Finals on June 10, 2022, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Elsa/Getty Images.

During Walton’s conversation with Mayne, the 10-year NBA veteran and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer rattled off six factors he believed that made sports what they are today. He said it all began in the early 1980s.

“Look at the world of sports that we have right now,” Walton said on the Hey Mayne podcast. “This has been created in the early ’80s, the remarkable, incredible, spectacular, empty the thesaurus, harmonic convergence of about six different factors, in no particular order.”

He began his list with that most important person ever in the NBA.

“You got David Stern, the most important person in the history of basketball,” Walton said. “You got (Nike co-founder) Phil Knight, the most important person in the history of all sports. You’ve got Michael Jordan. You got (sports agent) David Falk. You’ve got Jerry Buss, the greatest owner in all of professional sports. Then you’ve got ESPN, all coming together.

“Who was the face of ESPN? That was Kenny Mayne.”

Walton has a point with his David Stern comment


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If Walton believes today’s world of sports was created in the early 1980s, he might have a point when he mentions Stern as the most important person in the history of basketball.

Many believe it was the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson rivalry that helped save the NBA, and that, too, may be the case. Bird and Magic began their personal rivalry in the 1979 NCAA title game, but they carried it over into the NBA. Both played in huge media markets, one on each side of the country. Either Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers or Bird’s Celtics reached the NBA Finals every year in the decade. Three times, they faced off against each other.

But it was Stern who knew how to sell that rivalry. As NBA Commissioner, he changed the way of marketing the sport.

Stern became commissioner in 1984, taking over leadership of a struggling league. Instead of selling the NBA through its teams, Stern pushed its players, including Bird, Johnson, and Jordan, as the league’s selling point. Under Stern’s watch, the NBA grew into a global game and transformed into the empire it is today.

Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver knew he had some big shoes to fill when he took over after Stern died in January 2020.

“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads,” Silver said, per NBC Sports in 2020. “But over the course of 30 years as commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world.

“Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand – making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”

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