The New Year celebrations are supposed to be about looking forward - a fresh start, an optimistic outlook and the resolve to do better.
But barely a few hours into 2020, the NBA world was rocked by the death of former commissioner, David Stern. So instead, we look back. We remember and we appreciate.
The role Stern played in the development of the NBA into a global behemoth should not be underestimated. In terms of impact, perhaps only a certain number 23 had a greater individual influence on the exponential growth of this great league.
To begin to fathom the mark he left on the league, his ties to the NBA date back as far as 1966.
Early on in his career, he was part of the league’s legal counsel, involved in cases with huge ramifications such as; Hawkins vs the NBA, Robertson vs the NBA (the precursor to modern-day Free Agency) and the NBA vs ABA merger.
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By 1984, Stern had risen to the role of Commissioner, a position he would hold for an incredible 30 years. Although he was not always on the right side of the table when it came to making history (moving the SuperSonics from Seattle and nixing the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade for example), his calculated decisions were always (in his eyes at least) for the betterment of the league. And more often than not, he was right.
Some of his achievements during his 48-year tenure, quite frankly, amazing and far too extensive to cover here, but here’s a quick break down from Tas Melas of The No Dunks Podcast:
By the end of his tenure, his “rule with an iron fist” approach to leadership had lost most of its power. But it speaks volumes of the man’s dedication to the sport and love for the league that, even after his retirement in 2014, he was still in frequent contact with NBA HQ.
His unrelenting drive and ambition resulted in unprecedented growth for the league during his tenure. His collaboration with Boris Stankovic and FIBA to get NBA players into the Olympics gave the world the Dream Team. Perhaps the single biggest impetus for growing the game globally. Perhaps the single biggest reason that I, and other non-Americans, had the opportunity to fall in love with this game.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Friday 3 January, 1am (Saturday morning) - Philadelphia 76ers (23-13) @ Houston Rockets (23-11)
Two teams with title aspirations, capable of beating anyone on a given night. Two teams whose season's continue to stall and frustrate. Two teams featuring two of the NBA's brightest and most polarising stars in James Harden and Joel Embiid. Need I say more?
Saturday 4 January, 8:30pm - Memphis Grizzlies (13-22) @ LA Clippers (25-11)
The LA Clippers are rounding nicely into the team to beat this season. On paper, this looks an easy one but the Grizzlies, behind the play of star Rookie Ja Morant and sophomore Jaren Jackson Jr, are surprising people. Memphis currently sit one game out of a playoff spot and their team-orientated play has six guys averaging double-digit points. With the Clipper's Patrick Beverly likely sitting with a sprained wrist, Morant may have an easier night than expected... that's if you want to think of running into Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as easier...
Sunday 5 January, 11 pm - Portland Trail Blazers (14-21) @ Miami Heat (25-9)
The spluttering and injury-plagued Blazers will hope to catch a break and end a six-game losing streak (assuming they fall to the Wizards on Friday) in Miami. On New Years Day, they suffered an embarrassing loss to the New York Knicks and need to start collecting some Ws to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Heat, conversely, are riding high with six wins in their last seven - beating playoff rivals Philadelphia (twice), Indiana and Toronto in that span. Kendrick Nunn has just been named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (and there's still debate as to whether or not he's the best rookie on this squad), Bam Adebayo looks more than deserving of an All-Star nod next month and Jimmy Butler is still the best player on this team. Right now, the Heat are on fire.
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