David Stern, the NBA commissioner during the most successful period in league history, has died, the league announced Wednesday. He was 77.
Stern died as a result of the brain hemorrhage he suffered three weeks ago. His wife, Dianne, and their family were with him at his bedside, the NBA said.
"For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action. He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "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.
"David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. 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. Our deepest condolences go out to David's wife, Dianne, their sons, Andrew and Eric, and their extended family, and we share our grief with everyone whose life was touched by him."
Stern was commissioner for three decades and shepherded the league into the global market. He helped expand the game on the backbone of the NBA's star players, highlighted by the Dream Team's impact at the 1992 Olympics.
The NBA itself grew under Stern. Seven teams joined the league, and six relocated. Stern also helped in the creation of the WNBA, which had its inaugural season in 1997, and the NBA Development League, now known as the G League, providing countless opportunities for players to pursue careers playing basketball in the United States that previously weren't available.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern. The WNBA will be forever grateful for his exemplary leadership and vision that led to the founding of our league," WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. "His steadfast commitment to women's sports was ahead of its time and has provided countless opportunities for women and young girls who aspire to play basketball. He will be missed."
Stern's tenure overlapped with two of basketball's all-time greats, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Stern became commissioner in February 1984, the year Jordan entered the league. Stern stepped down from his post three decades later in 2014, the year after James won his second NBA title.
James paid tribute to Stern on Instagram, writing in part, "Thank you for your commitment to the beautiful game of basketball that has changed so many young adult/kids lives and more importantly your vision to make our game become WORLDWIDE was a vision only you could make happen! You did just that. Making our game the greatest sport in the world!"
Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, echoed those sentiments.
"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," Jordan said in a statement. "His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him -- and I admired him for that. I wouldn't be where I am without him. I offer my deepest sympathies to Dianne and his family."
Stern and the NBA also endured labor strife over the years. The first four lockouts in NBA history occurred with Stern as commissioner. The 1995 and 1996 lockouts did not result in lost games, but lockouts in 1998 and 2011 led to regular seasons that were shortened to 50 and 66 games, respectively.
David Stern's lasting legacy as NBA commissioner
Jeremy Schaap reflects on the life and legacy of former NBA commissioner David Stern, who has died at the age of 77.
"The entire basketball community is heartbroken. David Stern earned and deserved inclusion in our land of giants. His impact on our game and our business is immeasurable and the rewards we reap will continue to be appreciated by NBA players and their families for generations," the National Basketball Players Association said in a statement. "As tough an adversary as he was across the table, he never failed to recognize the value of our players and had the vision and courage to make them the focus of our league's marketing efforts -- building the NBA into the empire it is today. We owe him and we will miss him."
Stern would say that one of his greatest achievements was guiding a league of mostly black players that was plagued by drug problems in the 1970s to popularity with mainstream America. He had a hand in nearly every initiative to do that, from the drug-testing program to the implementation of the salary cap to the creation of a dress code.
During Stern's tenure, the NBA became one of the most popular leagues in the world and increased television revenue from $10 million per year to approximately $900 million per year.
"David Stern was a brilliant leader whose vision was instrumental in creating the global success the NBA enjoys today," ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. "ESPN is deeply grateful for his tremendous partnership through the years. Our thoughts are with David's loved ones, Commissioner Silver and the entire NBA family at this difficult time."
"My wife Willow Bay & I are deeply saddened by the loss of David Stern, who left an indelible mark on the sports industry & helped turn the NBA into a global cultural force," Bob Iger, Disney's chairman/CEO, said via Twitter. "He was an integral part of our personal and professional lives. Our hearts are with his family & the NBA."
Magic Johnson, a key member of the 1992 Dream Team, praised Stern in a series of tweets for how he responded after Johnson announced his retirement in 1991 after revealing he had HIV.
"David Stern was such a history maker. When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand," Johnson tweeted. "When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world."
Larry Bird, whose on-court rivalry with Johnson helped spark the league's growth, was another member of the Dream Team who helped grow the game's popularity internationally.
"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," Bird said in a statement. "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."
Under Stern, the NBA played nearly 150 international games and was televised in more than 200 countries and territories and in more than 40 languages, and the NBA Finals and All-Star weekend grew 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.
One action that Stern, an outspoken commissioner, will be remembered for is his decision to veto a trade in 2011 that would have sent Chris Paul from the then-New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers. Stern has defended the decision over the years, saying in October 2018 that he was acting to protect the then-league-owned Hornets. Paul was traded to the LA Clippers a week after Stern's veto.
David Joel Stern was born on Sept. 22, 1942, in New York City. He received his bachelor's degree from Rutgers and his law degree from Columbia. He initially became linked to the NBA as part of the law firm Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, which represented the league.
When Oscar Robertson filed a lawsuit against the NBA in the 1970s, Stern helped negotiate a settlement that both allowed the NBA's merger with the ABA and led to free agency in the league.
Stern officially joined the NBA as the league's general counsel in 1978 and succeeded Larry O'Brien as commissioner in 1984 after serving as the league's executive vice president of business and legal affairs from 1980 to '84.
After stepping down, Stern continued to address issues in the NBA. Among other ideas, he changed his position to promote legalized betting in the United States and said marijuana should be taken off the NBA's banned substance list.
Stern was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
"The reason I am here is because of thousands of people over the years who have done so much," Stern said during his induction speech. "You got to love the game, and everything that we do is always about the game."
ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk and The Associated Press contributed to this report.