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NBA’s commissioner David Stern dies at 77

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NEW YORK — David Stern, the basketball-loving lawyer who took the NBA around the world during 30 years as its longest-serving commissioner and oversaw its growth into a global powerhouse, died Wednesday. He was 77.

Stern suffered a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 12 and underwent emergency surgery. The league said he died with his wife, Dianne, and their family at his bedside.

“The entire basketball community is heartbroken,” the National Basketball Players Association said. “David Stern earned and deserved inclusion in our land of giants.”

Stern had been involved with the NBA for nearly two decades before he became its fourth commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. By the time he left his position in 2014 — he wouldn’t say or let league staffers say “retire,” because he never stopped working — a league that fought for a foothold before him had grown to a more than $5 billion a year industry and made NBA basketball perhaps the world’s most popular sport after soccer.

“Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time, but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation,” said Adam Silver, who followed Stern as commissioner. “Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.”

Thriving on good debate in the boardroom and good games in the arena, Stern would say one of his greatest achievements was guiding a league of mostly black players that was plagued by drug problems in the 1970s to popularity with mainstream America.

He had a hand in nearly every initiative to do that, from the drug testing program, to the implementation of the salary cap, to the creation of a dress code.

But for Stern, it was always about “the game,” and his morning often included reading about the previous night’s results in the newspaper — even after technological advances he embraced made reading NBA.com easier than ever.

“The game is what brought us here. It’s always about the game and everything else we do is about making the stage or the presentation of the game even stronger, and the game itself is in the best shape that it’s ever been in,” he said on the eve of the 2009-10 season, calling it “a new golden age for the NBA.”

One that was largely created by Stern during a three-decade run that turned countless ballplayers into celebrities who were known around the globe by one name: Magic, Michael, Kobe, LeBron, just to name a few.

Stern oversaw the birth of seven new franchises and the creation of the WNBA and NBA Development League, now the G League, providing countless opportunities to pursue careers playing basketball in the United States that previously weren’t available.

Not bad for a guy who once thought his job might be a temporary one.

He had been the league’s outside counsel from 1966 to ’78 and spent two years as the NBA’s general counsel, figuring he could always go back to his legal career if he found things weren’t working out after a couple of years.

He never did.

After serving as the NBA’s executive vice-president of business and legal affairs from 1980-84, he replaced Larry O’Brien as commissioner.

Overlooked and ignored only a few years earlier, when it couldn’t even get its championship round on live network TV, the NBA saw its popularity quickly surge thanks to the rebirth of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry behind Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, followed by the entrance of Michael Jordan just a few months after Stern became commissioner.

Under Stern, the NBA would play nearly 150 international games and be televised in more than 200 countries and territories, and in more than 40 languages, and the NBA Finals and All-Star weekend would grow into international spectacles. The 2010 All-Star game drew more than 108,000 fans to Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a record to watch a basketball game.

“It was David Stern being a marketing genius who turned the league around. That’s why our brand is so strong,” said Johnson, who announced he was retiring because of HIV in 1991 but returned the following year at the All-Star Game with Stern’s backing.

“It was David Stern who took this league worldwide.”

He was fiercely protective of his players and referees when he felt they were unfairly criticized, such as when members of the Indiana Pacers brawled with Detroit fans in 2004, or when an FBI investigation in 2007 found that Tim Donaghy had bet on games he officiated, throwing the entire referee operations department into turmoil. With his voice rising and spit flying, Stern would publicly rebuke media outlets, even individual writers, if he felt they had taken cheap shots.

But he was also a relentless negotiator against those same employees in collective bargaining, and his loyalty to his owners and commitment to getting them favourable deals led to his greatest failures, lockouts in 1998 and 2011 that were the only times the NBA lost games to work stoppages. Though he had already passed off the heavy lifting to Silver by the latter one, it was Stern who faced the greatest criticism, as well as the damage to a legacy that had otherwise rarely been tarnished.

“As tough an adversary as he was across the table, he never failed to recognize the value of our players, and had the vision and courage to make them the focus of our league’s marketing efforts — building the NBA into the empire it is today,” the NBPA said.

David Joel Stern was born Sept. 22, 1942, in New York. A graduate of Rutgers University and Columbia Law School, he was dedicated to public service, launching the NBA Cares program in 2005 that donated more than $100 million to charity in five years.

He would begin looking internationally soon after becoming commissioner and the globalization of the game got an enormous boost in 1992, when Jordan, Johnson and Bird played on the U.S. Olympic Dream Team that would bring the sport a new burst of popularity while storming to the gold medal in Barcelona.

Stern capitalized on that by sending NBA teams to play preseason games against other NBA or international clubs, and opened offices in other countries. The league staged regular-season games in Japan in 1991 and devoted significant resources to China, and Stern’s work there would pay off in 2008 when basketball was perhaps the most popular sport in the Beijing Olympics.

Growth slowed near the end of his tenure. The worldwide economic downturn in the late 2000s all but wrecked his longtime hopes of expanding overseas and led to the second lockout, with owners wanting massive changes to the salary structure after losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year on their basketball teams, on top of losses in their personal businesses.

He helped get them, and the league was thriving again by the time he left office. Stern said he felt the time was right, confident that he had groomed a worthy successor in Silver, who had worked at the league for more than two decades.

Stern stayed busy, taking trips overseas on the league’s behalf, doing public speaking and consulting various companies. He was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Stern and his wife had two sons, Andrew and Eric.

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Mirtle: This may very well be the last stand for this Maple Leafs core – The Athletic

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Kyle Dubas stood in front of a small group of reporters on the NHL’s trade deadline day and offered some serious honesty about his Maple Leafs.

He swore. He called their play embarrassing. And he offered a firm “I don’t know” when asked why they were so inconsistent — or “Jekyll and Hyde,” as he put it at one point.

“The truthful answer is we don’t know,” Dubas said. “That might draw some criticism to say ‘I don’t know,’ but I’m not gonna bullshit and tell you I have some magical solution. I think we have to go through this.”

Dubas spoke for nearly 18 minutes on Monday afternoon, with long answers that followed a now familiar theme. The tale he told was about how his team still has lessons to learn and that this adversity, these brutal losses, are the path to getting there.

It seemed some came away from the speech believing it was another rousing…

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Trade grades: Oilers acquire 2020 version of Mike Green – ESPN

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Edmonton Oilers trade for Detroit Andreas Athanasiou

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This in from Gord Miller of TSN, that the Edmonton Oilers have traded for Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner from Detroit. The Oilers gave up Sam Gagner and two second round picks to get Athanasiou, who will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer.

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My take

  1. It looks like Oilers GM Ken Holland wants his team to take a run at the Stanley Cup. Can you blame him? Not me.
  2. Athanasiou, 25, is a major pick up for the Oilers. He’s having an off year but he scored 30 goals in 2018-19.
  3. When it comes to even strength scoring, Athanasiou ranks 238th out of 393 regular NHL forwards this year, with 1.57 points per game.
  4. Sam Gagner ranks 284th for even strength scoring with 1.38 points per game. But Gagner lacks the wheels to play with Connor McDavid. Athanasiou has got them. Gagner was moved for cap reasons, so Edmonton can fit Athanasiou under their cap.
  5. Kuffner, 23, is a struggling AHL player.
  6. Athanasiou kills penalties and plays on the power play in Detroit. This year he’s at 1:37 per game on the PK and 2:21 per game on the PP. But his big number is that -45 NHL plus-minuus in 46 games. That’s a wretched number but it’s a number earned by the entire Detroit Red Wings team when Athanasiou is on the ice, it’s not an individual stat. We’ll see how well Athansiou plays defence when he gets here, though there are doubts about him in this regard.
  7. Athanasiou has been on the ice for 21 even strength goals for this year and 60 against.
  8. Brian Burke of Sportnset said: “All I can tell you about Athanasiou is: he makes both teams dangerous. This is a guy who has speed for sure, but he is not a fanatic about defence. I can tell you that. This one, I’ll give Kenny the benefit of the doubt. They definitely got faster but this guy is not a defender.”
  9. Former NHL coach Bruce Boudreau of Sportsnet said Athanasiou would help push NHL defenders back with his speed. “I think it’s going to work out. If Connor is skating full speed and this guy can keep up to him, how do you check them”?
  10. Louie DeBrusk of Sportsnet said: “This is going to be the first time that Connor McDavid has a running mate that can actually keep up to him and be right there with him and be right on the door step waiting for those back door tap ins.”
  11. Scottie Upshall on TSN said, “I like the move. They need speed. He’s one of the fastest players in the league. And Connor needs that. He needs a guy who is going to step up and keep the pace of play and be able to move the puck, be able to create some space.”
  12. TSN’s Ray Ferraro said: “Certainly Ken Holland knows him from Detroit. He’s seen the ups and downs of AA as he’s gone from Grande Rapids to a part time pro in Detroit to a full time guy. Seen him score 30 goals. He’s there to watch him -42 this year. So I think there be a pretty direct line of communication of what’s expected from Athanasiou. He can skate. He can score. McDavid is on a line right now with Alex Chiasson and Sam Gagner. That doesn’t fit. They need more there. And I think the Oilers… they’ve got a player that can play with McDavid. Will it be successful. We’ll see…. It feels like this is the type of player who has had such a crappy year that can hit lightning here playing with a guy like McDavid.” Ferraro said he’s intrigued by this for Edmonton. “I think that what concerns me is that he likes the puck. Athanasiou likes the puck. He likes to rush it. He likes to carry it. The guy he’s going to be playing with should be carrying the puck all the time.”
  13. TSN’s Craig Button wondered if Athanasiou would get to the right places at the right time on the ice. “He plays with blinders on… He’s like a drag racer. He’s not a formula one racer. He’s just straight ahead. And if you’re going to play with Connor McDavid, you better be thinking, ‘Where’s Connor so I can get him the puck?’ I don’t think Athanasiou will be a good fit for Connor McDavid. I don’t.” Buttons suggested playing Athanasiou with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and putting Drasaistl back with McDavid.
  14. TSN’s Jeff O’Neill said: “It’s going to be nice to see him in a competitive situation too. There’s not a lot of fun going on in Detroit right now and I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of fun. That would be a player who would just be drowning in that year after year.”
  15. TSN’s Mike Johnson said: “Even if it doesn’t fit perfectly, if they’re not a perfect blend, Connor McDavid is talented enough, if you have any kind of offensive instincts, or even enough to know just get out of the way, go to the net and let him do his thing, you’ll pick up points, you’ll pick up goals, you’ll feel better about yourself. There is an element of truth that if you just keep it simple even it’s not exactly your style of game, if you just keep it simple and go to to the net and get out of the way, Connor McDavid is great enough for you to have a little bit of success just like that.”
  16. I like this deal. Edmonton has a great chance to both win the Pacific division and to make the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Second round picks are valuable, but they have about a one in five chance of turning into a good NHLer.
  17. Athanasiou makes $3.0 million this year. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, so Edmonton will have to make a call on him then. For now, we’ll see how he does this spring in Edmonton.

In case you’re wondering about the value of draft picks, Brad McPherson has dug into this a this website, the Blue Bullet Report:

Essentially, he’s found that a forward taken in the various rounds has the following average career value:

  • 1st overall: 102 value
  • 10th overall: 26.2
  • 20th: 13.2
  • 30th: 8.9
  • 40th: 4.8
  • 50th: 4.2
  • 60th: 3.6
  • 70th: 3.4
  • 80th: 2.2
  • 90th: 1.8
  • 100th: 1.5
  • 110th: 0.9
  • 120th: 0.9
  • 130th: 0.8
  • 140th: 0.8
  • 150th: 0.8
  • 160th: 0.8
  • 170th: 0.6
  • 180th: 0.6
  • 190th: 0.5
  • 200th: 0.5
  • 210th: 0.5

The first overall pick has an average career value four times greater than the 10th overall pick and more than 10 times greater than the average 30th overall pick, and more than 20 times greater than the average second round pick.

Sometimes lower round picks turn into fine players, like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones. Most often, they do not.

Major recent trades:

  • Edmonton gets Athanasiou for two second round picks and Sam Gagner.
  • Pittsburgh gets Patrick Marleau for a third round pick.
  • Carolina Hurricanes get Vincent Trochek for forwards Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark and two prospects (Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen).
  • Washington Capitals acquire Ilya Kovalchuk for a third round draft pick.
  • New York Islanders get Jean-Gabriel Pageau for first round draft pick in 2020 (lottery protected), 2nd in 2020 and 3rd round pick in 2022 if Islanders win the Cup.
  • Colorado gets Vlad Namestnikov for a fourth round pick in 2021.
  • Boston Bruins get Ondrej Kase, traded for a 2020 first-round pick along with David Backes and defensive prospect Axel Andersson, Bruins retaining 25 per cent of Backes’ contract.
  • Vegas Golden Knights get Alec Martinez, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 2nd-rd pick
  • St. Louis Blues get Marco Scandella, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 cond. pick
  • Washington Capitals get Brenden Dillon, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 cond. pick
  • Winnipeg Jets get Dylan DeMelo, D – Traded for ’20 3rd-rd pick
  • Vancouver Canucks get Tyler Toffoli, RW – Traded for Tim Schaller, Madden, picks
  • Tampa Bay Lightning get Blake Coleman, LW – Traded for Nolan Foote, ’20 1st-rd pick
  • New Jersey Devils get David Quenneville, D – Traded w/ ’21 2nd-rd pick for Andy Greene
  • Pittsburgh Penguins get Jason Zucker, LW – Traded for Alex Galchenyuk, Addison, ’20 1st-rd pick
  • Los Angeles Kings get Trevor Moore, LW – Traded w/ picks for Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford
  • Buffalo Sabres Michael Frolik for 4th -round pick (2020)
  • Montreal Canadiens Marco Scandella for 4th-round pick (2020)
  • Arizona Coyotes Taylor Hall and Blake Speers for 2020 conditional first-round draft pick, 2021 conditional third-round draft pick, Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley Kevin Bahl

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