LOS ANGELES—LeBron James eulogized David Stern for his global vision and shrewd negotiating tactics. But with Stern passing away on Wednesday at age 77, the Lakers star suggested another way to honour the late NBA commissioner.
“He definitely should have something named after him,” James said following the Lakers’ 117-107 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. “Either if it’s an award, or, I don’t know, a day? During the course of an NBA season, there’s a ‘David Stern Day.’ I don’t know. We can figure it out.”
James suspected NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the league office will brainstorm ideas soon. After all, James argued that Stern and Dr. James Naismith “are two of the most important people for the game of basketball.” The reason? Naismith invented the game in 1891. During Stern’s time as NBA commissioner (1984-2014), he salvaged a league previously ravaged by drug use, poor TV ratings and declining revenue.
He then turned the league into a global empire. Stern played a large part in the NBA morphing from a league that showed the NBA Finals on tape delay into one that has a multibillion-dollar television deal.
“You got to give him so much credit,” James said, for the NBA broadcasting its games around the world. That’s because Stern placed a heavy emphasis on marketing the league’s superstars.
“It was a dream come true to step up on that stage and shake David’s hand knowing where I come from,” James said. “I remember that handshake. I remember him giving me that hat and I remember that handshake. I will never, ever forget that.”
James, who wore an all-white suit on that draft night in 2003, also will never forget what Stern told him backstage before the draft proceedings.
“He told me he wanted to wear my suit one day,” James said. “I won’t forget that. He told me in the back, ‘You think I can borrow that suit one day?’”
But James did not always have warm moments with Stern. While commissioner, Stern publicly criticized James for hosting a one-hour show with ESPN to announce he would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat as a free agent in 2010. The following summer, James often sat in on meetings between the players union and Stern during a 161-day lockout that eventually shortened the 2011-12 season to 66 games. The lockout ended after the players union and the NBA agreed to a 51-49 split among players and owners in basketball related income, a one-time amnesty provision that allowed teams to waive a player without consequence and shorter player contracts.
“We had our battles,” James said. “We also understood that we wanted to do whatever it takes to help grow the game, and that was the one common goal on both sides. So even though we had our differences at times at the round table, there was one common thing that we all left that room. We were saying, ‘How can we continue to build this game, and expand this game to where it is today?’”
Because he considered Stern a “great visionary” in finding answers to that question, James thinks Stern is the greatest commissioner in all of professional sports.
“His legacy will live on forever.”
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