David Stern brought together about eight lawyers in the NBA offices high above Fifth Avenue in New York. It was in the 90s, and now even the most illustrious men and women employed in the league knew that the commissioner was able to make them feel small when he was in the mood.

Stern was in the mood on that particular day because something had gone wrong. Although he could be a compassionate and generous ruler, Stern often adopted a zero tolerance policy for subordinates who allowed things to go wrong.

“We have 26 lawyers,” he shouted, “and I have to do everything. Guys, you can’t do it — I have to write everything for you. I have to do it all!”

Stern has done everything in his three decades as a commissioner, if only because he felt he had no other choice. I met him in his office in the Olympic Tower in the summer of 1998, when Stern was worried about the job stoppage to come, a block that would reduce the following season to 50 games. He recalled an era when the biggest post-season games were broadcast late on tape after the late night news, and when the NBA was, he said, “canceled as too black, too drug-infested “. Son of a deli owner, Stern was earning a $ 9 million salary after turning this barely relevant league into a global giant defined by megastars with a crossover charm.

He brought it out with the relentless power of his personality, becoming, at 5 feet 9, a giant in the history of American and international sport. In 1988, four years after becoming commissioner, Stern overheard fans in the Republic of Georgia cheering on the Atlanta Hawks’ 5-7 guard, Spud Webb, to crush the Russians in his hometown after seeing Webb’s stunts high quota on pirated tapes from Turkey. Holy Moses, Stern told himself. What do we have here?

Two years later, Stern was on tour in China when a guide told him he loved Michael Jordan and his “Red Oxen”, or Chicago Bulls. At the time, the commissioner was already looking for a Yao Ming. He would have created the Dream Team for the 1992 Olympics to improve the worldwide search for talent and, more importantly, for untapped markets that would have produced boys and girls who, in Stern’s words, “would have started dribbling the ball instead of kick it. “

Although he has become more recognizable than most of his players, Stern has figured out something that his former executive vice president of basketball operations, Rod Thorn, has claimed that his boss hasn’t had enough credit for a long time. “David was smart enough to realize it had to be about the players,” Thorn said Wednesday evening, a couple of hours after the news of Stern’s death at 77. “He really cared about the players and they went from nowhere to the most recognized athletes in the world, plus some football stars. David knew that people would have to like our players if we were successful.”

Stern needed to please Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird; he didn’t need to like it. Respected? Yes. Admired? You bet. Feared? Absolutely.

But liked it was always optional. At the sight of the public, moving from his office to games to business negotiations, Stern projected an avuncular atmosphere that earned him the nickname “Easy Dave”.

Behind closed doors, the visionary scolded a long line of owners, managers, employees, lawyers, coaches and players when he felt that they were not aligned with his, well, vision.

“The people who do great things are the people who convince others to get along with what they feel,” said Thorn, former Bulls and New Jersey Nets executive and Stern senior lieutenant in the championship office for two bouts. and over 16 years old. “David was fantastic in getting people to do what he thought should be done.”

Thorn enlisted Jordan for the Bulls in 1984, but was fired the following spring. When he interviewed Stern to become the chief disciplinary of the NBA, the commissioner said to him, “People say you’re too kind to a boy. In this job, you can’t be too nice to a boy.”

Thorn really enjoyed his time in the league office. He saw Stern as an incomparable leader who was tough but fair.



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