NEW YORK – NBA commissioner David Stern said Thursday that he plans to step down on Feb. 1, 2014, on what would be the 30th anniversary of the date he assumed the league’s top executive position.
Stern’s exit strategy and the announcement of deputy commissioner Adam Silver as his likely successor was the surprise news from the two-day Board of Governors meetings in Manhattan. Stern, 70, had announced last winter that the current collective bargaining agreement with the players would be his last. But that deal runs at least until 2016. This puts Stern’s departure less than 15 months away.
“It’s been a great run,” Stern said at a news conference. “It will continue another 15 months. The league is in, I think, terrific condition.
“Even at this board meeting, we reviewed finances. We approved new ownership for Memphis [the Grizzles’ sale to investor Robert Pera’s group]. I like to think I did an adequate job, but one of the things I did best was to provide a successor who would be able to take the kind of things we look at as growth opportunities … to take us even to the next level.”
Silver, 50, has been an NBA executive for 20 years and deputy commissioner since July 2006. After a few weeks of negotiations, the Board of Governors is expected to hold a vote in April that will result in Silver becoming just the fifth commissioner in league history, succeeding Maurice Podoloff (1947-63), J. Walter Kennedy (1963-75), Larry O’Brien (1975-84) and Stern.
Thirty years is a nice round number, during which the NBA has experienced exponential growth in revenues and global popularity. Stern has led the league through both its highest highs — from the era of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to stars of the current millennium such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and others – and some of its lowest lows, including a referee gambling scandal and two rancorous labor lockouts (1998, 2011) that cost the league and fans both games and revenue.
Was 30 anything other than a round number as Stern made his decision to exit? “I thought one year for each of the 30 teams,” he said, joking.
Now “commissioner-elect,” Silver said to Stern, seated next to him during the news conference: “I think there’s no doubt you’ll be remembered as the best [commissioner] of all time. You set the standard, not just for the sports industry but I think all CEOs.”
Stern called Silver a “world-class executive” and said, while he had him in mind as his likely successor for years, he “could not be happier” that the Board of Governors approved Silver unanimously.
Still, both Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, who is stepping down as chairman of the Board of Governors, and San Antonio’s Peter Holt, who takes over that role, said the owners would continue to lean on Stern. Not just during the transition but beyond.
Stern, however, mentioned Naples, Fla., or may have some other destination in mind from which he could provide his assistance after February 2014. His health, he said, is good.
“I feel great,” Stern said. “I’m stepping down. I’m not retiring. I will enjoy watching it. Not in any official [capacity]. Comfortably away someplace else. On call to help.”