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What I'll Remember From David Stern's Reign

David Stern has been the Commissioner nearly as long as I've been alive. His career was twice as long as Michael Jordan's. What follows is not a comprehensive history of his rule. It's just what, and how, I will remember the greatest Commissioner in the history of professional sports.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

I've watched David Stern's reign from afar. The Memphis Grizzlies rarely gave cause to draw the eye or ire of the Great Commissioner David, of the House Stern, First of His Name, Ruler of the Conferences East and West, and Protector of the NBA. These next few words, I write as a plebe who never knew his king.

I love David Stern

Basketball is littered with characters. It's one of the reasons it's my favorite sport. Kobe Bryant, Tony Allen and Javale McGee largely don't exist in football. One of my favorite characters in basketball has been David Stern.

When Stern is in front of the microphone, he is not talking. Not really. He is a trapeze performer, cutting long arcs in the air with his words, extemporizing filibusters, before he eventually swings back to his point. His wit cuts. His smile is a muscle which he can clench into benevolence, or flex so weakly it barely covers whatever-it-is that lays beneath.

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From the above clip: {Calibrates smile to the perfect depth} "I think its... great.... that our players have become leaders in fashion." That gets me every time. I've never had the pleasure to meet David Stern, or see his audial acrobatics. Perhaps that is why I love him so much. It's much easier to watch someone else be the subject of his scorn, than be the subject yourself.

The Law of the Land

Stern, a lawyer by trade, loved making rules. From the Byzantine Salary Cap to the Dress Code, Stern's rules criss-cross every facet of the NBA. And where other Commissioners seem to make it up as they go allow themselves lee-way in matters of judgement, Stern's Law lives apart from him.

So when Amare Staudemire and Boris Diaw took a handful of steps onto the court in response to this during the 2007 Western Conference Finals, there was no room for equivocation. The stage didn't matter. Neither did the fact that Amare and Diaw both did nothing to escalate the situation. They violated the law. They were both suspended. Phoenix lost the ensuing game, and eventually, the series.

Stern bore that criticism like he did all others. With a smile and a shrug. To him, his hands were tied. Once he set the Law he wasn't above it.

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He Can Charm a Booing Crowd with a Handful of Words

No, seriously.

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The above clip is proof that there are multiple Sterns. Game of Thrones would be a boring show with Stern on the throne. He wouldn't have to wait for his dragons to be grown. He is the best parts of Ned Stark (slave to his Law), Renly Baratheon (garners the love of the people), Tywin Lannister (cunning politician), and like another character, everything he has done, he has done for the good of the realm because....

Stern Loves the Game

I believe that. I really do. If sports is your job, it can drive the fan out of you, but I never doubted that every decision David Stern made, he made for the good of the game. Perhaps it is a well-crafted persona that serves his interests, but I think not.

I'll end with this. I can't remember when Stern said it, but upon being asked what his greatest regret was during his reign as Commissioner, he said not being able to keep the Grizzlies in Vancouver. This wasn't a shot at Memphis, or even in response to poor attendance numbers. It was an open acknowledgement of a mistake. Vancouver is a great city, one of my favorites. I feel bad that the reason Memphis has an NBA team is because Vancouver does not. Apparently, so does Stern.


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Maybe that's why, in recent years, he not only brought basketball back to New Orleans, he fought to keep it there by convincing the other 29 NBA owners to buy the team, rather than find a buyer that would move the Hornets. The Kings, beyond all comprehension, are somehow still in Sacramento.

That doesn't happen if you view your job as merely "expanding your global footprint," or "making my constituency richer." It happens when you aren't prioritizing the bottom line. It happens when you care about the game.