SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Flanked by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bill Russell, David Stern entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame promoting the NBA and deflecting attention from himself and his impact on the game of basketball and the league.
"I think the future is incredibly bright," the former commissioner said at the Springfield Symphony Hall. "The reason I am here is because of thousands of people over the years who have done so much. The league is in spectacular shape going forward under the extraordinary leadership of Adam Silver."
Stern headlined a Hall of Fame class that included Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Nolan Richardson, Gary Williams, Immaculata University's AIAW national championship teams of the early 1970s, Bob Leonard, Nat Clifton, Sarunas Marciulionis and Guy Rodgers. Some of the game's biggest stars were on hand for Friday's ceremony.
Stern oversaw the most successful period of the NBA's history and shepherded the league onto the global stage. 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.
During his 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.
As commissioner from 1984 until he stepped down in February, Stern helped the NBA expand from 23 to 30 teams. He implemented numerous rule changes and instituted an age limit for the NBA draft.
But to Johnson, perhaps Stern's greatest impact was off the court.
"David Stern not only changed my life but he also made HIV and AIDS acceptable around the world," Johnson said in an interview on NBA TV. "He should really be winning a Noble Peace Prize for what he did in terms of teaching people and educating people and the sports world and the world all at the same time when you think about Orlando, the All-Star Game, and from there the Dream Team and the Olympics. But also how he stepped up front and he didn't waver and said, 'Hey, I am going to support Magic Johnson and this league is going to support Magic Johnson.'"
"He will go down as the greatest commissioner in sports history," Johnson later added. "But he will also go down as the man who changed the face of HIV and AIDS and made it acceptable around the world, and you can embrace people, you can talk about it openly and not behind closed doors anymore."
The night opened with Richmond talking about being a part of Golden State's memorable trio of "RUN TMC" with Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway before being traded to Sacramento, where he enjoyed some of his finest moments.
Richardson, the former Arkansas coach, delivered the most entertaining speech, captivating the audience full of basketball dignitaries for close to 30 minutes with his storytelling and beaming personality.
"I was about 10 years of age, and my grandfather said, 'Son, you got to believe,'" Richardson said. "And he's got some preacher in him, and you can tell I got a little bit in me. He said whatever you do, you got to believe."
"I can say Larry Bird, oh, I am a fraternity brother," Richardson later added. "Magic? Oh man, we can rub elbows."