Every major news organization in the United States and many overseas have been writing commentaries and tributes to David Stern as he steps down this week as NBA commissioner after three decades.
Understandably, most of the articles have focused on the business and culture of the NBA. I want to make sure that Stern is also recognized for his unique efforts on race and social justice issues. This includes not only creating programs that help communities in the United States and around the world but also for his deliberate attempt to be inclusive of whom the NBA hires in the league offices as well as who is hired at the team level.
Stern's tenure as commissioner began a few years before I started writing the Racial and Gender Report Cards evaluating the hiring practices of the NBA, NFL, MLB, WNBA, MLS, college sports and the media. Stern has created a tapestry of acts of inclusion.
When he took over, the league was divided by race and lacked diversity at every level. Many people criticized the NBA player base as being "too black" while league and front-office employees were overwhelmingly white and male. From the start, the new commissioner said positions on the court would be filled according to the skills and talent of the contenders. In fact, the percentage of players of color has increased while the percentages of women and people of color in professional positions in the league office and team front offices have advanced dramatically.
Right from the start of his tenure, hiring in the league office included more women and people of color in the New York offices and later in its global offices. The NBA has been the only men's league to get an overall A for racial and gender hiring practices. It has done so for six consecutive years. The other men's leagues are now close to the NBA's A for racial hiring practices, but both the NFL and MLB still get a C-plus for gender. The WNBA, which Stern helped to launch, is the only organization that beats the NBA and has had an overall A-plus. Seventeen years after its launch, the WNBA has had an A in both categories in all but one year.
Although the NBA has always won accolades for results on both the NBA and WNBA report cards, Stern told me he wished there was no need to issue the report cards. I told him I would stop doing it when I thought everybody was doing as well as the NBA. Stern said his ultimate goal is that "no one will notice not only when we hire a person of color but also when we fire a person of color."
There should be no surprise that the upcoming All-Star Game has a day of service scheduled before the festivities begin. Players, NBA executives and friends will serve the New Orleans community, which is still devastated from Hurricane Katrina almost nine years later. Through his tenure, Stern made sure NBA teams interwove service with business. It marks the second time the game has been played there since Katrina with a stated purpose of helping the recovery. Stern further influenced the city when the NBA temporarily took control of the team to secure the future of the now New Orleans Pelicans.