David Stern's 30-year tenure as NBA commissioner wasn't flawless. Here are five of his more forgettable moments or ideas.
Synthetic basketballs, 2006
After decades of leather-covered basketballs, Stern announced the NBA would use new microfiber-composite-covered game balls for the 2006-07 season. They allegedly had better grip and a "truer bounce," and wouldn't need to be broken in. Just one problem: Players hated them.
They were difficult to control, players said, and they cut your hands. A study also found the new balls bounced more erratically and absorbed more moisture.
Stern said Spalding worked on the balls for 14 years. They lasted barely a month.
On Dec. 1, 2006, the players’ union filed unfair labor practice charges against the league for making the switch without consulting players. Ten days later, the NBA said the leather ball would return on Jan. 1, 2007, an in-season change unprecedented in major American sports. Player outcry and negative public sentiment had spurred Stern to reverse course, a rare case of concerted opposition impacting the often-dictatorial commish.
– Dan Devine
Advertisements on jerseys
Apparel and jersey sales act as a nice moneymaking cherry on top of the NBA’s ticket and TV-derived revenue streams. Starting in the mid-1990s, NBA teams started using alternate jerseys as a way to drive up sales, and a few years later the throwback boom led to squads wearing decades-old versions of their franchises’ logo and style. Sniffing out a way to lend more cash to team owners, the NBA’s front office augmented those styles with sleeved jerseys and signed off on eventual advertisements on players.
– Kelly Dwyer
Moving the Seattle SuperSonics, 2008
Howard Schultz seemed like the perfect owner for the Seattle SuperSonics – a basketball fan who made his billions taking money off Seattleites via his chain coffee stores. Predictably, Schultz came down from his caffeine high to sell out his adopted city, and he sold the SuperSonics to a pair of businessmen from Oklahoma City with designs on moving the team. David Stern, unwilling to prolong the process so as to find a local buyer, signed off on the transparent deal, which led to the Oklahoma City buyers fleeing to that city after one season in Seattle.
Tom Donaghy scandal, 2007
Some gambling experts have suggested former NBA referee Tim Donaghy likely attempted to shape the outcome of games, whether that meant affecting a final score to impact the over/under, or to push one team towards winning over another. Donaghy has denied ever fixing games, but did bet on NBA games, including those he worked. Regardless, this was a major stain on Stern's tenure. Stern and the NBA’s front office did well in acting transparently to reveal Donaghy’s gambling illness and its effect on the games he worked. But in return the league also instituted an over-the-top policy on critiquing its referees that has resulted in varying returns, to put it mildly.
– Kelly Dwyer
Three NBA lockouts, 1995, '98-99, 2011
Former Philadelphia 76ers owner Pat Croce is recently on record as saying David Stern "really cares about the fans," but his work as counsel for NBA owners speaks to the contrary. Stern has presided over three NBA lockouts, helping hide team owners from the collectively bargained and legal contracts they had previously signed players to. In that time the NBA has lost 48 contests and over seven months’ worth of games, denying thousands of North American workers (not including NBA players) from jobs along the way. All for increased profits for Stern’s 30 NBA team owners.