Stern has been fantastic, too

Originally Published: January 23, 2004
By Tom Tolbert | Special to ESPN.com

Let's cut right to the chase: NBA commissioner David Stern is the best commissioner in sports. He does a better job than any of his counterparts in the other three major sports and has helped revolutionize the way sports are marketed.

Before Stern took over the NBA, it was a league with rampant drug problems, half-empty arenas and serious doubts about its future. Fast-forward 20 years and drugs aren't prevalent in the league, the arenas are at 90 percent capacity and now talk of expansion into Europe has become a viable option.

I mean just look at the league now; it's amazing. There are kids in Croatia wearing LeBron James' jersey. Heck, there are kids in Croatia wearing the jerseys of guys who are on NBA benches. It's amazing how quickly this has become a global game, not just the game of North America. There are a couple reasons why the NBA has become so big.

20 YEARS AS THE COMMISH
David Stern
THURSDAY: The Past
  • Stein: Q&A with David Stern
  • Rovell: How he showed NBA the money
  • Smith: Top 10 highs and top 10 lows
  • SportsNation: Grading the Commish


    David Stern
    FRIDAY: The Present and Future
  • Stein: Stern's tasks at hand
  • Ford: Moves GMs want to see
  • Tolbert: The player's perspective
  • First, Stern made the decision to allow the Dream Team. He was the first commissioner to complete the marriage of his sport to the Olympics. It seems like such a simple idea now, but in the early '90s it was revolutionary.

    This was the beginning of the globalization of the NBA and it was one of those rare moves that were great for the fans and for everyone else involved in the planning of the event. NBA fans were able to see the greatest players of that generation play on the same team. The world was exposed to great basketball and the NBA reaped the most benefits because it then became the "it" league.

    His best decision may have been to start a stringent drug program. When Stern became commissioner, the league was beset by drug problems. He correctly identified that those problems were helping to keep sponsors and fans away from the game. The drug program he installed contributed to the legitimacy of the league. The program hasn't been 100 percent effective because there are still some knuckleheads out there who would rather do drugs then have one of the greatest jobs in the world.

    Finally, Stern realized that no matter what decisions he made this was still a player's league. He made the decision to market the players to the world and not just the league. So instead of just saying the "NBA is fantastic," he made it known that the reason it was fantastic was because the best players in the world played there.

    Stern has been blessed with amazing foresight and vision that's been used to the league's benefit. I hope this 20-year anniversary paves the way for another 20 years of leadership from him because he's been fantastic.

    Tom Tolbert, who played in the NBA for seven seasons, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.