The Exchange

From MJ to KD, Stern's NBA saw big dollars and big branding

The Exchange

After 30 years of overseeing the National Basketball Association, David Stern's tenure as commissioner of the league has come to an end.

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NBA Commissioner David Stern. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File) April 18, 2008.

During his three-decade run, the NBA transformed into a global powerhouse, reaching a new audience around the world. His timing was impeccable: When he became commissioner in 1984, the league still had Julius Erving -- Dr. J -- and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who teamed with Magic Johnson on the L.A. Lakers to wage those annual battles with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.

But in that first year for Stern, something extraordinary happened that would take the game to an entirely new level. In his initial draft, the third player taken overall just happened to be the man many fans believe is the greatest basketball player ever. It was Michael Jordan, picked by the Chicago Bulls from North Carolina. MJ wasn't even the only superstar to join the league that year. Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley also entered, Olajuwon going to the Houston Rockets and Barkley to the Philadelphia 76ers. John Stockton went to the Utah Jazz.

The next few years would see the influx of Europeans from Drazen Petrovic to Dirk Nowitzki, along with China's Yao Ming. Stern was there when the Dream Team in 1992 featured American professionals in the Olympics for the first time. He was in office when Magic shocked the world with the news he was HIV positive. He was there for Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. He was there for the Detroit-Indiana brawl, and he was there for the last high schoolers to be allowed to enter the draft.

How much of the league's remodel was Stern, how much was the players, and how much was television? It's hard to parse, but it's a certainty that Stern presided over an astonishingly entertaining period for the NBA. Under his watch, revenue increased more than 40-fold, and NBA games are seen in 200-plus countries. It wasn't without problems, of course. Franchises at times struggled financially or relocated, while two separate lockouts in a decade-and-a-half shortened seasons.

But that's all in the past for him now. Next up, it's new commissioner Adam Silver, who's got big shoes to fill. He's also got LeBron James and Kevin Durant to help. (Graphics by Siemond Chan.)

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