The past really is a foreign country, as L.P. Hartley o…

The past really is a foreign country, as L.P. Hartley once wrote, and David was one of its best correspondents. In retirement, he had the biggest backlog of the history I cared about, both recent and ancient. He could regale me with tales of how New York Knicks centers continually came up short against Bill Russell, and clue me in to how recent CBA fights shaped the modern salary cap. It started when I reached out for a story, roughly two years ago. I said in my email that he could call me at any hour, not expecting a response. One day, I checked my phone and saw I had a message. An annoyed-sounding voice said, “Hi Ethan, this is David Stern, calling you, at any hour. But this is obviously not a good hour.”

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Stern screamed and cursed and pounded boardroom tables, treating the commissioner's seat like an emperor's throne. It's hard to imagine Stern at rest, but he has died at 77. The former commissioner suffered a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 12 and was in critical condition until his death on New Year's Day. For most of his life, Stern kept coming and coming and coming. Privately, owners talked tough about how Stern worked for them. In his presence, many of them cowered. At once, owners, management and players were grateful to Stern for franchise valuations and salaries growing exponentially -- and fearful that failing to submit to his will could result in legitimate retribution, including unfavorable referee assignments in the playoffs.
In every elevator shaft, every room, Stern was a force of nature. For all the volatility and blunt force, there was an incredibly progressive, generous and compassionate side to Stern. The NBA played a leading role in HIV and AIDS awareness. Stern refused to let the league become overrun with irrational fears in the wake of Magic Johnson's diagnosis in 1991. Minorities and women were elevated into prominent positions in larger numbers and greater frequency than in other professional leagues. There are stories of NBA employees with family crises that credit Stern with remarkable acts of kindness and generosity. In his pre-NBA days as an attorney, Stern took on and won a massive housing discrimination case for African Americans in Northern New Jersey, and did so pro bono.
Really, the stakes for a fight were never too small. In our last conversation, I used the word “solipsistic” to describe the worldview of celebrities in a social media era. He expressed doubt that I was using the word correctly. I fought back, taking his momentary silence as a victory. “Ah ha! I finally got one on you!” I triumphantly crowed. Five minutes later, I was talking about something totally different, when Stern interrupted, blurting, “THE VIEW OR THEORY THAT THE SELF IS U-ALL THAT CAN BE KNOWN TO EXIST??” “Ach,” he said with another sigh. “That’s hardly what you were saying. Hardly.” I had to meet him halfway and say another word might have been slightly better, just so we could finally move on.
The response from those in hockey was positive. They certainly didn’t close any doors on the idea and, 17 years later, Las Vegas received its expansion team. Things were entirely different down the street. “(Stern) looked at me and said, ‘Over my dead body will Las Vegas ever get a team with legalized sports betting there,’ ” Goodman recalled Wednesday. “He was a curmudgeon. He was brilliant. He was a very, very nice man. Over the years, I became the little dog nipping at his ankles about Las Vegas. Wherever he went, I went. I imposed myself on him. “I told him all the time he was wrong about Las Vegas. He was always very nice in the way he said, ‘No.’ We disagreed in the beginning but became good friends. He was a decent person. I really liked the guy.”

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Larry Bird: "My family and I send our sincere condolences to David Stern’s family. There are no words that can really describe the far-reaching impact of Commissioner Stern's brilliance, vision, fairness and hard work over so many years. When you think of all that he accomplished worldwide on behalf of thousands of players, so many fans, all of the jobs he created for team and arena employees and all of the people that benefitted from the many layers of growth in the sport and industry that David spearheaded and then passed on to others, there is no doubt Commissioner Stern lifted the NBA to new heights and he will be greatly missed by all of us."
Stephen Curry: Will never forget the words you spoke this day! "With the 7th pick" changed my life forever. Thank you and your family for your leadership and commitment to growing the game of basketball around the World. Forever grateful. RIP Commisoner Stern!

https://twitter.com/StephenCurry30/status/1212522376631443457
Liz Mullen: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "All of us at the National Football League are deeply saddened by the passing of David Stern. David was a driving force in sports for decades and helped the NBA soar to new heights around the world." Full Statement:

https://twitter.com/SBJLizMullen/status/1212520497096744961
Jared Weiss: Statement from Celtics on passing of David Stern: "David was a towering figure whose accomplishments in building the NBA will never be forgotten. His leadership brought the game of basketball to people all over the world and helped change what the NBA could mean to people..."
Christian Clark: Pelicans call David Stern a "catalyst in professional basketball returning to New Orleans in 2002" in a statement on his passing. "His commitment...was further shown when he guided the franchise through an ownership transition to Tom Benson in 2012."

https://twitter.com/JHarden13/status/1212510323762253829
Michael Jordan: “Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before. His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him – and I admired him for that. I wouldn’t be where I am without him. I offer my deepest sympathies to Dianne and his family.”
Chris Paul: The game lost a leader today. Extending my prayers to David’s family and loved ones in this time of grief 🙏🏾

https://twitter.com/CP3/status/1212503667527573511

https://twitter.com/rudygobert27/status/1212504164368027648

http://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1212490300184289280
Candace Buckner: #Wizards Coach Scott Brooks starts his pregame availability by expressing his thoughts on the passing of David Stern: "We've lost a legend, an icon. Someone I had a great deal of respect for as a player... and when I became a coach."
Pau Gasol: Today the #NBAFamily lost a legend, a leader that changed our game for the better. A father, a husband, a friend. RIP #DavidStern, you will forever be missed. 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/0dColRyTOT
Enes Kanter: Prayers up for David Stern and his family! Rest In Peace 🙏 pic.twitter.com/iCM8e5iL9n

http://twitter.com/mcten/status/1212479351230517248
Adrian Wojnarowski: David Stern — the Hall of Fame ex-NBA Commissioner — has died at 77 years old. He oversaw tremendous growth in his 30 years as commissioner, retiring in 2014. Stern had been hospitalized since a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 17.
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