Six of David Stern's lasting impacts

Across 30 years as NBA commissioner, David Stern presided over the league's colossal global growth. He impacted the NBA in a variety of way that will be long remembered. Here are six of them.

Drug policy, implemented in 1983

NBA fans have long given credit to David Stern for establishing pro sports’ first comprehensive drug punishment plan, but in reality former commissioner Lawrence O’Brien was in office when the policies were negotiated and agreed upon in 1983. Stern was the driving lead counsel during collective bargaining agreement talks, though, working with lead player representative Bob Lanier in hashing out a policy that would be emulated by other sports leagues soon after. Punishing those with addiction issues is sometimes cruel, but the quality of play skyrocketed. – Kelly Dwyer

Salary cap, implemented in 1984

As with the drug policy, Stern wasn’t the commissioner when O’Brien and the Players Association signed off on a future salary cap during collective bargaining negotiations in 1983, but he was dogged in negotiations in ways that would foretell his less successful later years. The convoluted salary cap was the first of its kind for the major modern pro sports, and it began its run during Stern’s first full season in 1984-85. Stern was quick to think on his feet regarding the so-called “Larry Bird Exception,” allowing teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own players (though ironically the exception was never used on Larry Bird), amongst myriad other give-and-takes with the players and their representatives over the past 30 years. – Kelly Dwyer

Internet growth

The league’s official website was far ahead of its football and baseball brethren in embracing the power of the web. Telling their fans to “go to the net” during commercials hyping the 1996-97 season, the league offered downloadable and streaming audio and video from’s launching point, loading up rosters and official individual team and player sites right away. A year later, the league would offer an audio pass to listen to each game’s radio broadcast, the visual component to that came years later, and currently often acts as a go-to scouting tool for the exacting NBA fan. Stern’s league also encourages fans to creatively work with NBA video online, and it was the first league to give press passes to amateur bloggers in the late 1990s. – Kelly Dwyer

Rookie contracts

In 1992-93, Jim Jackson sat out for all but 28 games for the lowly Dallas Mavericks before the team finally signed him to a six-year, $20 million contract he would opt out of after five years. His first-year salary, again for only 28 games, exceeded that of the two selections taken in front of him in the 1992 draft. A year and a half after his signing, it was rumored that top overall pick Glenn Robinson would be holding out for a $100 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. Stern and the players swooped in to bargain toward a salary scale for rookies, ensuring that all rookies would spend the first few years of their career working on reasonable contracts, and eliminating the chance of a holdout. – Kelly Dwyer

International growth

David Stern wasn’t the first NBA commissioner to encourage teams to scout overseas, or to embrace international fans, and initially he didn’t even want his NBA pros to play in the Olympics. Still, Stern, his players and several apparel and fast food conglomerates worked together to help shepherd in a modern NBA era that spent huge chunks of time and effort attempting to break through to previously untapped markets. The result has been hugely beneficial for both the league and its international partners, in both business and basketball terms. – Kelly Dwyer


It might be the source of ridicule for some, but Stern’s creation of a women’s pro league in 1996 has created thousands of American jobs in the 18 years since for players, arena workers that would usually be off during the summer, and all manner of tangential associates. It has allowed for some of the country’s top college players to work in their home country instead of overseas, and it has provided untold numbers of young women with local role models they can look to for inspiration either within athletics or out. It’s also some great, competitive basketball. And people still have a problem with this? – Kelly Dwyer

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