By J.A. Adande
One aspect of David Stern's reign as NBA commissioner is the indelible personal mark he put on things. It wasn't just the actions, it was the way in which they did it. These moments often reflected as much of his personality, manner and leadership style as they impacted the league. While you can debate whether another commissioner of this age accomplished more, there's no doubt that he displayed more attributes -- imperious, sarcastic, compassionate, ruthless, among them -- than his contemporaries.
As he concludes his three decades atop the league, here are some of the most David Stern moments of David Stern's time in power.
A friendly chat
Not long before he presented Ron Artest (later Metta World Peace) with his 2010 NBA championship ring, Stern stood on the Staples Center court and chatted amicably with the player. On the surface it wasn't anything noteworthy. The history between them made it remarkable. In 2004 Stern had suspended Artest for the remainder of the season for Artest's role in starting the Malice at the Palace brawl in a game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. The suspension cost Artest 73 games and $5 million in salary. In Stern's view, the brawl cost the NBA two decades' worth of image-building for his league, as all of the old worst-case assumptions and labels for his players came rushing back. He has called it one of the low points of his tenure.
And yet ... Stern was willing to put it past him and enjoy Artest's progress and success with him. As much as Stern punished disobedience, he also would reward compliance. You can measure Stern's time as commissioner in financial improvements. You can also track it in personal relationships.
Stern never shied from revealing his political affiliation -- "I'm a loyal Democrat," he proclaimed at the 2010 NBA Finals -- yet it still was surprising to hear him attach his views to a topic that was already explosive enough: the 2003 sexual assault charge against Kobe Bryant.
When I asked Stern before the season if Bryant should continue to play amid the legal proceedings, Stern replied: "Absolutely. We don't have a Patriot Act in the NBA. That means that you're innocent until proven guilty."
It was a swipe at the post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism legislation that critics said gave the government unconstitutional powers to detain immigrants and pry into citizens' private levels. No other commissioner would jump into that debate -- let alone use a controversy involving one of his sport's biggest stars as a diving board. Stern had no fear.
In 2000, when Stern discovered the Minnesota Timberwolves had reached a secret agreement with Joe Smith to pay him up to $86 million waiting on Smith as soon as his initial $2.5 million contract was up, his vengeance came straight from old Greek mythology. He voided Smith's contract … and all but voided the Timberwolves' immediate future. He took away five first-round draft picks (later dropped to three) in addition to fining the franchise $3.5 million.
There had been rumblings of handshake agreements and wink-wink deals around the league for years (Hmm, the Phoenix Suns signed Danny Manning to a $40 million contract AFTER he tore his ACL while on a one-year, $1 million deal? OK.). This time, Stern had evidence.