Today is David Stern's last day at the office. The last day in a reign that has spanned four different decades. By all objective measures, Stern's term as commissioner will be seen as a success; the league has grown immensely both financially and internationally, and the sport is as popular as ever. Still, as Rockets fans, we can't help but look back with mixed feelings towards Stern over the last thirty years.
Stern certainly had a near impossible job, dealing with constant pressure from thirty owners and countless executives, but his constant focus on the league's growth with little consideration towards competitive fairness casts a dark shadow on his legacy as a sports commissioner. Stern's motives were clear and he never tried to hide his cold-blooded executive mentality, but as a fan, you can't help but hope that Adam Silver will take a more even-handed approach.
The most recent memory that comes to mind of this mentality was Stern's now-infamous veto of the Pau Gasol-Chris Paul mega deal that would have blown up the outlook of the Western Conference. We have discussed the potential consequences to death, but looking at the incident itself, it was a microcosm for everything wrong with Stern.
For one, there is the issue of owning the Hornets in itself. The NBA bought the Hornets when they were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and then proceeded to hold onto the team for nearly a year and a half, with Stern acting as the owner. That was a problematic situation on so many levels, but Stern opted to hold onto the team for more than 16 months, rejecting offers to buy it until he got one that suited him.
With Stern acting as the owner of the team, he rejected a trade that had been agreed upon by the three GM's discussing the deal. As an employee of the 29 owners in the league, he was pressured into that action, something he will deny to his deathbed, and therein lies the problem: The Hornets didn't have a horse in the race. David Stern had 27 teams (all except the Lakers, Rockets, and Hornets) in his ear telling him not to make the trade. He will tell you that the deal was vetoed because it hurt the team's resale value, but the reality of the situation is that on the first day of a CBA that Stern pitched to the small market owners as a chance to restore parity to the league, the team the league owned was about to facilitate the creation of yet another "super team," this time in the second largest market in the league.
While Dell Demps had to look out for just the Hornets and could care less about the Lakers, Stern had to answer to the rest of the league. And he couldn't look into Dan Gilbert's eyes and tell him that this new CBA was going to stop the super teams from sprouting up again. Thus, as Adrian Wojnarowski reported, the NBA killed the deal after being pushed by the owners to do so.
Looking back, the veto obviously helped the Rockets, but the issue of Stern's heavy handedness was a problem that persisted throughout his whole tenure. He fined Gregg Popovich and the Spurs for resting their stars on a nationally televised game, he helped facilitate the move of the Sonics to Oklahoma City, and ultimately helped the Rockets by destroying a deal that would have netted them Pau Gasol.
Who knows where the league would stand without David Stern. It might be weaker, less popular, not nearly as international as it is today, but I have a difficult time saying that the ends justified the means. May Adam Silver restore a guise of balance to the commissioner's office.