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."
Mourning opened his induction by giving sort of a shout-out to longtime Knicks adversary Jeff Van Gundy.
"You know, watching that video up there," Mourning said after watching a Hall of Fame highlight video of his career. "I tell you, it's good to be remembered for more than just dragging Jeff Van Gundy around on my leg. ... Sorry about that Jeff. Those Knicks-Heat games got pretty intense back in the day."
The longtime Heat center delivered perhaps the most inspirational speech of the night, talking about all the obstacles he had to overcome -- the biggest being a life-threatening kidney disease that required a kidney transplant from his cousin Jason Cooper in 2003.
"I am not supposed to be on this stage considering what life threw at me," said Mourning, a seven-time All-Star and two-time defensive player of the year. "The only reason I am here and the only reason I am on this stage, the only reason I did survive, is because of God's grace and also other people's contributions.
"Those individuals and influences in my life gave me the greatest gift possible -- it gave me a piece of themselves to a kid from Virginia," Mourning added before choking up. "They gave a piece of themselves to a kid from Virginia who didn't understand how important selflessness truly was until it saved his life."
Stern was the last inductee to speak, and was accompanied by Johnson, Bird, Russell, Bob Lanier and former deputy commissioner Russ Granik on the stage. Michael Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Russell, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were among the many stars who were featured in a highlight video talking about all the accomplishments Stern helped the NBA reach.
Stern told stories of each man who was on stage with him and what each individual meant to his career and the NBA. He kept his induction speech short, and thanked his wife and his family. He also talked glowingly of the state of the game, its impact globally, and the NBA's initiatives in communities and values all over the world.
"You got to love the game, and everything that we do is always about the game," said Stern, who has been giving lectures and talks around the country. "In China, we had a guide that told us she was a big fan of the red oxen. She was corrected; she meant Bulls."
"It is always about the game," Stern added. "And we have wonderfully articulated our values together. We go around the world and talk about exercise and fitness and good health. We enroll a million Indian children into junior NBA and junior WNBA because we teach them about discipline, about hard work, about sacrifice, teamwork and about a sense of confidence that comes from accomplishing something. It is absolutely incredible but it is always about the game."