Tributes have been paid to former NBA Commissioner David Stern who passed away on January 1 at the age of 77 after suffering a brain haemorrhage on 12 December. Stern, a high-profile advocate of introducing legalized sports betting, had been involved with the NBA for almost 20 years before taking on the role as its first commissioner in February 1984. 

In a statement from the NBA, current Commissioner Adam Silver said: “For 22 years, I had a court side seat to watch David in action. He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends. We spent countless hours in the office, at arenas and on planes wherever the game would take us. Like every NBA legend, David had extraordinary talents, but with him it was always about the fundamentals – preparation, attention to detail, and hard work.” 

He added: “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. Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.”

Also paying tribute was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who said: “Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before.”

Former player Larry Bird joined the tributes, saying: “There are no words that can really describe the far-reaching impact of Commissioner Stern’s brilliance, vision, fairness and hard work over so many years.

“When you think of all that he accomplished worldwide on behalf of thousands of players, so many fans, all of the jobs he created for team and arena employees and all of the people that benefited from the many layers of growth in the sport and industry that David spearheaded and then passed on to others, there is no doubt Commissioner Stern lifted the NBA to new heights and he will be greatly missed by all of us.”

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman had the following to say about Stern. “I am extremely saddened at the passing of my mentor and long-time friend David Stern. He was a man of great vision and energy who is responsible for the operational and business advancements that created the modern sports industry. 

“David taught me how to be a commissioner and, more importantly, how to try to be a good person. David will be missed terribly, especially by his wife Dianne and his sons Andrew and Eric, all of whom have Shelli’s and my deepest condolences.”

Bob Johnson, Founder of Black Entertainment Television and Founder and Chairman of The RLJ Companies, reflected on Stern’s contribution to racial equality in the game, saying: “The sports world and the NBA lost a visionary business leader and a force for racial participation and opportunity at all levels of the NBA with the untimely passing of David Stern. 

“I was honored, under David’s leadership and encouragement, to become the first African American majority owner of an NBA basketball team, the Charlotte Bobcats. David’s legacy will be that of a one-of-a-kind individual who nurtured and built a sports league that will leave an indelible and giant footprint in the global arena of sports competition and the unifying culture of sports in our lives.”

Tracking the achievements of Stern during his tenure as Commissioner, the NBA wrote: “Under Stern, the NBA would play nearly 150 international games and be televised in more than 200 countries and territories, and in more than 40 languages, and the NBA Finals and All-Star weekend would grow into international spectacles. The 2010 All-Star game drew more than 108,000 fans to Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a record to watch a basketball game.”