The recent death of longtime NBA commissioner David Stern prompted thoughts and reminiscences from around the league. Stern had a passionate and sometimes fearsome personality. Nonetheless, he earned the respect of players, owners, and media members alike through his relentless dedication to the sport of basketball.
Almost everybody in basketball, from LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, weighed in to express their thoughts regarding Stern’s passing. Likewise, legendary NBA superstar and current Charlotte Hornets team owner Michael Jordan also had some revealing words to say about Stern. Let’s take a look at Stern’s legacy, Jordan’s time in the league, and the surprising similarity between the two great men.
David Stern’s NBA legacy
Stern took over as commissioner of the NBA in 1984, and he spent 30 years at the helm. At the time he took over, the NBA was one of the smallest sports leagues in the country — both in terms of revenue and fan interest. David Stern played an instrumental role in building the league into the global enterprise it is today.
Stern was a born marketer, with an innate sense of where the NBA’s greatest appeal laid. For instance, he recognized that the popularity of individual players would drive growth as significantly as team popularity. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Stern’s very first NBA draft saw future stars like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon enter the league.
Today we take it for granted that the NBA is a worldwide league, with players coming from all over the globe. That wasn’t always the case, however. Stern pushed aggressively for international growth, organizing overseas exhibition games, and setting up vital marketing partnerships that helped widen the reach of the NBA’s product.
Michael Jordan’s rise as NBA superstar
As noted above, Michael Jordan entered the league during Stern’s first year. The Chicago Bulls selected him with the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft. From virtually his first game, it was clear that Jordan was in a league of his own. During his rookie campaign, he averaged a staggering 28.2 points per game, while shooting 51.5% from the field, earning Rookie of the Year honors in the process.
Eye-popping statistics quickly became the norm for Jordan, who ultimately led the Bulls to six NBA titles. Not only were Jordan’s skills elite, but his work ethic and competitive drive were second to none. As a result, Jordan didn’t always have the best relationship with his teammates, whom he held to the same impossible standards as himself.
On a recent podcast appearance, former Jordan teammate and current Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted that Jordan’s teammates were scared to death of him. Kerr didn’t necessarily mean that as a put-down since he credited Jordan with being an effective — albeit fearsome — leader. By trash-talking teammates during practice, and exposing them to harsh criticism, Jordan effectively prepared them for the intensity of high-level postseason competition.
How Michael Jordan and David Stern were similar
In many ways, David Stern and Michael Jordan made the NBA what it is today, and they were very much alike. Both men could be harsh and blunt to a degree that scared many people away.
The biggest similarity the two men shared was that both demanded a lot from the people around them. Yet both also were possessed of a deep drive to succeed. While Jordan sought for individual and team success, Stern sought to make the NBA into the global entity he knew it could become.
Jordan’s recent statement regarding Stern’s death seemed to reaffirm some of the similarities between the two. Jordan explicitly acknowledged his admiration for Stern’s “deep love” of the game—and for the fact that Stern often had to “demand excellence” from others to make his vision into reality.