The highs and lows

Originally Published: January 22, 2004
By Sam Smith | Special to

Forget the Celtics, the Lakers, or even the Bulls. The NBA's greatest dynasty -- the Stern Dynasty -- marks 20 years next month. David Stern became commissioner of the NBA on Feb. 1, 1984, succeeding Larry O'Brien. Stern has had the longest tenure of the four commissioners in NBA history (along with Maurice Podoloff, J. Walter Kennedy and O'Brien) and presided over the greatest growth and success of the NBA. But it hasn't always been a slam dunk. Here's a look at David Stern's top 10 successes -- and failures.

David Stern's top 10 hits and top 10 misses as NBA commissioner
Why David Stern is the Commisshinator Why David Stern is no Arnold Schwarzenegger
10. Expansion. When Stern became commissioner, there were 23 teams. He presided over major expansions to Canada and several Sun Belt cities to get the league to 29 teams with further expansion eventually expected in Europe in the next decade. Hillary Clinton 10. He let Hillary become a U.S. Senator. That was supposed to be Stern's New York U.S. Senate seat. But he got enmeshed in labor problems in the late 1990s and his personal ambition to become a national leader was thwarted. Instead, New York got Hillary Clinton.
Robert Johnson 9. Racial equality. Stern brought in the first black owners in professional sports and has seen to it, without demands like the NFL and baseball, that minorities got significant opportunities throughout the league. 9. Teenagers in the NBA. Stern hasn't been able to keep teenagers out of the NBA because of strained relations with the players union, and the result has been a decline in the quality of play.
8. Outreach. The NBA's Stay in School program and others have been a model for various community outreach projects for players that have helped make many NBA stars among the most popular figures in international sports. Sheryl Swoopes 8. The WNBA. Stern has been a groundbreaker, and he's tried to find a place for women in the game in the U.S. But the effort has been met with disinterest and has become a drain on the resources of teams forced to support WNBA franchises.
Jerry Reinsdorf 7. Franchise value. Stern took care of his owners, who thus let him take care of business. Teams sold for about $15 million in 1984. The entry cost for the new Charlotte franchise, which starts play later this year, is $300 million. 7. Job placement. While many former NBA players have gotten opportunities with teams, Stern hasn't done enough with sponsors and business to enable former players to have opportunities that might help them beyond their time in the league, like creating partnerships with sponsors in which former players have a job with the company.
6. All-Star Weekend. The NBA under Stern turned its All-Star Game into a weekend of popular events and a setting for sponsor relations that has been copied by all sports leagues. Larry Brown 6. Rules changes. The league has tinkered with the rules, including the questionable addition of the zone defense, and it has produced the lowest scoring since the shot clock was instituted in 1954 and a decreasing interest in the game.
Michael Ray Richardson 5. Image. The NBA had an outlaw, drug-infested image in the late 1970s. Although the NBA's drug policy requiring lifetime bans was instituted shortly before Stern became commissioner, he was deputy commissioner then and has presided over an era of credibility. At least outside Portland. 5. NBDL. Stern wasn't able to find a way to incorporate the CBA and other minor leagues into a true feeder system for the NBA, instead employing his own limited minor league.
4. Marketing. The NBA brand of merchandise was the first to become a major commercial item and the most identifiable as Stern successfully marketed the league's stars and created a game atmosphere that extended beyond the court to make the game an event. That combined with expanding TV contracts and eventually to cable further expanded the league's reach. Michael Jordan 4. The Michael Jordan probe. The league dropped its investigation of Michael Jordan's gambling when he retired the first time, leaving a cloud over Jordan's time out of the NBA from 1993 to 1995 with questions still on whether he was suspended.
3. The salary cap. It was first imposed in 1983 just before Stern officially took office. But he had a major hand in the landmark financial concept to save the owners from themselves and provide financial stability for his sport. It's been or is being copied by all major sports. Patrick Ewing 3. The lottery. It generally was a positive, providing credibility for the draft process. But the curious way the first lottery prize, Patrick Ewing, went to Stern's hometown and struggling Knicks left credibility problems over the process.
Yao Ming 2. Globalization. Stern was able to see that the world expanded beyond U.S. borders. The NBA began an international tournament in 1987 that led to NBA players being made eligible for the Olympics and the famous 1992 Dream Team. International players now play a major role in the NBA. 2. The Simon Gourdine affair. Stern was viewed as being heavy-handed when former league staffer Gourdine looked like he was being put in place as union boss in the mid-1990s. It resulted in a lockout in the summer and bad relations with the players union, which was exacerbated when it was found some teams were withholding money from the salary cap distribution and a settlement with the players was reached. It led to unnecessary suspicion.
1. Magic, Bird and Michael. Stern was the beneficiary of the most exciting talent to come into the NBA with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. But Stern enhanced their value by concentrating on star power, and the NBA exploded in interest by the early 1990's. Billy Hunter 1. And that led to the 1998-99 lockout. The biggest labor related work stoppage in league history alienated fans and erased much of the goodwill, interest and excitement from the great Michael Jordan era.

Sam Smith, who covers the NBA for the Chicago Tribune, is a regular contributor to