MILWAUKEE – David Stern, the former NBA Commissioner who oversaw the growth of the NBA on a global scale, and who was at the helm when the Timberwolves joined the league in 1989, died Wednesday, the league announced. He was 77.
Stern had recently undergone surgery for a brain hemorrhage he suffered approximately three weeks ago.
‘‘First I want to express heartfelt condolence to Commissioner Stern and his family,’’ Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said. ‘‘On behalf of the organization, the league is better for what he was able to do for everybody involved.
‘‘The game of basketball has given, I’d say, all of us, a lot of great opportunities and Commissioner Stern is responsible for a lot of those opportunities. He’ll forever be remembered and forever be cherished in this game. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.’’
The Timberwolves and Lynx also issued a joint statement, calling Stern a “trailblazer” in sports that “elevated our game in every sense” while owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, said Stern’s impact on the game could be felt on multiple fronts, from negotiations for television rights, collective bargaining agreements and his work overall in growing the game.
“His ability to have ideas and then the force to implement them, I think he’ll always be known for it,” Taylor said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s one thing, it’s really the idea that he did lots of things. That’s really important.”
For 30 years, Stern oversaw the NBA as it grew into a viable domestic and global product. Under his leadership, the NBA added seven franchises to expand to 30 teams.
He negotiated big-money television deals, organized the league offices to include 13 around the world, handled multiple crises and work stoppages, and put a focus on marketing and international exposure.
“Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time, but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation,” current Commissioner Adam Silver, Stern’s successor, said.
Stern’s intersection with basketball in the Twin Cities is a colored one beyond overseeing the Wolves’ entrance into the league in 1989.
He was in charge in 2000 when the league handed down severe sanctions to the Wolves in their signing of Joe Smith.
The league found out the Wolves had an under-the-table agreement with Smith, who was set to sign three successive one-year deals for little money, so they could retain his Bird Rights and go over the salary cap and eventually sign him to a lucrative extension.
But the league found out about the agreement, which was against NBA rules, and Stern and his office fined the Wolves $3.5 million and took away what would amount to three first-round picks in 2001, 2002 and 2004. They voided Smith’s contract and the two previous ones he had signed. Glen Taylor agreed to a suspension that lasted approximately eight months, while then vice president Kevin McHale agreed to take a leave of absence.
In an interview with the Star Tribune in December of 2000, Stern said, “The system I’m enforcing is designed to keep teams like Minnesota in the ballgame. How can the system work if there isn’t a cap of some kind that enhances the ability of the lower-grossing team to compete? . . . If there’s a more important job that I have than making sure that system works.”
But despite that episode, Taylor said he enjoyed a close personal friendship with Stern that began when Stern asked Taylor to form and head the NBA’s audit committee a few years after Taylor took over the team in 1994.
“He and I, our personalities are quite different and how we went about … the role that he took, the role that I took,” Taylor said. “But we complemented each other, even though we took very different roles and action.
“I think I found out just by working with him, and then having our weekly calls that I really enjoyed his personal, private life that he shared with me once we got to be buddies. We just talked about lots of different things and I appreciated that.”