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As David Stern ends 30-year reign as NBA Commissioner, ESPN colleagues offer tribute

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NBA Commissioner David Stern spent his final few days atop the league he globalized by making the media rounds, including an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” a one-on-one with Mike Tirico on SportsCenter and more. Despite Stern’s high-profile appearances to mark the end of a 30-year run, it was a mostly low-key exit for the man who took the NBA Finals from tape delay to one of the most-watched sports events of the year.

Since ESPN’s founding in 1979, it has covered the NBA. ESPN has been a network partner of the NBA’s since 2002. As Commissioner Stern bids adieu and turns the keys to the kingdom over to Adam Silver, many ESPNers offered personal anecdotes about working with the man who revolutionized the NBA.

John Kosner, Executive Vice President, Digital and Print Media
Like many in the sports business, I had the good fortune to gain my “Stern training” over seven and a half years at the NBA (1987-1994). I learned a tremendous amount from David, sometimes at very high volume, and, to me, he is the epitome of the sports commissioner and one of the true giants in sports. David not only led the entire industry in sports marketing, he also personally spearheaded the globalization of basketball, which while self-evident today, was hardly that way before the Dream Team played in Barcelona in 1992. One notable point for me occurred earlier that year when the “Rodney King” riots in Los Angeles threw the first-round playoff schedule into disarray. David always listened to his lieutenants and he gave us wide berth to think up solutions. I worked with Matt Winick and Ed Desser at the NBA on a new schedule and we came up with a new wrinkle — a first-ever Sunday tripleheader with the final game being the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan playing the Knicks and Patrick Ewing. That was the first of what became a long-standing and quite successful early Sunday night national broadcast timeslot all because David listened and supported the good ideas of others. I feel very fortunate to have worked for him and the experience there certainly prepared me for everything that I have done since then.

Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer
What I always appreciated about David Stern was he really cared about our productions. He cared that we were cutting-edge and that our presentation of the league was as good as anything in the television industry. He was always very generous in making sure we were offered all the resources of the NBA.

Henry Abbott, ESPN.com TrueHoop blogger
In a press conference at the NBA Finals in 2012, Adam Silver and David Stern were at the podium. I was sitting with then-ESPN.com’s John Hollinger. Stern is talking and John showed me his phone, which had a tweet in reaction to something Stern had just said from some funny person. I laughed out loud. It was that funny. Even though I’m sitting right in front of the Commissioner and on television, I laughed out loud. As it happened, he was talking about the WNBA at that next moment. He finished the press conference and someone asked him a follow-up WNBA question and he said, ‘Yes, thank you for asking. Fifth gold medal in a row they’re going for. You should come to a game, and you should bring Abbott with you. He might learn something.’ That was the end of the press conference so I said ‘come with me, John’ and marched up to the table and said ‘show him your phone. This is what I was laughing about.’ I’ve interviewed tons of WNBA players and written feature stories about the WNBA, he wasn’t going to get me on this.

Bruce Bernstein, coordinating producer
In 2012, I was backstage preparing for the NBA Draft about an hour before air when Ross Greenburg, whom I knew from the old days at HBO Sports, was visiting with David. Ross and I worked together briefly back in the early 1990s. He came over to say hello and told me that David was hobbling around because of a recent surgery on his knee, which I did not realize. Since my job was to coordinate David’s many trips to and from the podium, this “scouting report” was helpful since I would do my best to minimize the amount of “mileage” he had to cover that night. Although there were more than 30 “round trips” to the podium that night, David never missed a step, and while he was occasionally grimacing backstage before he appeared on camera, the viewing audience never had a clue how uncomfortable he must have been. It was a great example of “playing with pain.”

Another more humorous story involved the 2011 NBA Draft. My two sons Adam and Mitchell came to the Draft that year. When I introduced them to the Commissioner prior to the show, he told them it was nice to meet them and that their mom must really be attractive because clearly they didn’t get their looks from me. I’ve had my chops busted by many people over the years, but never did I enjoy it more than that time.

Mike Greenberg, co-host, ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike
We’ve always enjoyed having David Stern on Mike & Mike. He’s been a regular guest and he’s always interesting. Here’s the one thing I will say about David Stern and this holds true – there is no substitute for smart. There’s nowhere you can go with David Stern where he’s not right there with you. If you want to go to a serious topic, he’s got answers, if you want to have a little fun, he has a deceptive sense of humor and it all comes from the fact that he’s smarter than you and in the conversation, and both of you know that.

Mike Golic, co-host, ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike
For him, the proof is in the pudding. You see where the NBA was when he took over. It was not in a good way. Not to say that any sport is in a perfect way right now, but where he brought basketball and how he was able to do it – that’s a feather in his cap as he rides on off into the sunset. I enjoyed how he did it and enjoyed his sense of humor when he was on with us.

Liam Chapman, producer, ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike
I would echo what Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic said about him being the smartest guy in the room for all the interviews we have ever done with him. I’ll add that no matter when, why or how serious the topic we had him on for, he would always join us and like to have a laugh with Mike and Mike.

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