10 Worst Moments During David Stern’s NBA Commissioner Reign
10 Worst Moments During David Stern's Tenure as NBA Commissioner
The NBA is under new guidance as Feb. 1 marks the day that David Stern steps down from his post as commissioner of the league and Adam Silver takes the reins of the league. The day marks the exact 30-year mark of the day in 1984 that Stern took over as commissioner of the NBA from Larry O’Brien.
Stern took over the league at one of the most incredible times in the history of professional basketball. Just four months after being named commissioner, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton all entered the league as part of the 1984 NBA Draft class. In case you’re new to this basketball thing, those guys were pretty great.
Stern’s tenure as NBA commissioner has been one that has progressed the league a great deal, has grown the league, and has clearly been the most memorable era of professional basketball yet. While much of that has to do with the talent that’s come through over the past 30 years, Stern’s actions as the head of the league aren’t without their hand in all of these things.
While the NBA has become arguably the second most watched sport in the United States in Stern’s time as commissioner, his reign hasn’t been without its shaky moments. Some horrific, some devastating, and some strange, the NBA has had some darker times sporadically under the leadership of Stern. You have to applaud the great things Stern has done for the league, but let us not forget the blemishes on his record, the tragedies, and the downright ugly things that happened as well as we look back at the 10 worst moments in the NBA while Stern was commissioner.
10. Latrell Sprewell Choking P.J. Carlesimo
Back in 1997, Latrell Sprewell was playing for the Golden State Warriors and had a bit of a short fuse. Things between him and then head coach P.J. Carlesimo got so heated at one point in a particular practice that Sprewell actually choked his coach and made threats on his life. After a public outrage and several arbitration technicalities, Sprewell was suspended for the remaining 68 games of the season. The league under Stern took a hit, having a player come off as a loose-cannon in such a violent manner.
9. 2002 Western Conference Finals
To this day, Sacramento Kings fans will tell you that they should have been in the 2002 NBA Finals instead of the Los Angeles Lakers, largely due to the way that game six was officiated. The Kings were looking to put away the series, but a boatload of ticky-tack and phantom foul calls gave the Lakers 27 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter and ample opportunity to escape with the win in game six. The Lakers went on to win game seven and another NBA Championship, but Kings fans only remember the curious officiating, which really brought at least a small amount of distrust to Stern and the league.
8. “The Decision”
While I’ll vehemently defend LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat still, the way he went about it was all wrong. “The Decision” was incredibly self-glorifying and an obvious attempt to grab viewers. Perhaps it’s just me, but for Stern and the NBA to allow a player to have his own TV special dedicated to a decision every NBA player makes at some point was a bad look, regardless of whether or not he left or stayed in Cleveland.
7. Kobe Bryant Sexual Assault Case
In 2003, Kobe Bryant was arguably becoming the face of the NBA. That image took a big hit in July of that year, though, when a sexual assault case surrounding Bryant and a 19-year-old hotel employee. The case never reached trial after a settlement of undisclosed terms was reached between the two parties, but that didn’t change the fact that one of the league’s stars was mixed up in a scandal shrouded in negative light.
6. 1985 NBA Draft, the “Bent Envelope”
In Stern’s second NBA Draft as commissioner in 1985, the lottery system was introduced in its infantile stages with each team getting an envelope in a turning cage. However, as the envelopes were being put in, one particular envelope seemed to be jammed in, bending the envelope. That so happened to be the envelope that Stern picked for the first overall selection; it also belonged to the New York Knicks. The Knicks drafted Patrick Ewing and remained in-contention for the next decade and a half largely thanks to that pick and the fishy circumstances around how they received the first pick.
5. Gilbert Arenas, Javaris Crittenton Firearm Incident
Late in 2009, news came out that then Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas had firearms in the team’s locker room. News continued to break with it later coming out that Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton had both pulled firearms out in the locker room in an argument related to gambling debts. Arenas and Crittenton were suspended for the rest of the season, but the image of potential gun violence in locker rooms rattled the NBA quite handily.
4. Sonics Moving to Oklahoma City
The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the most exciting teams in the NBA currently, but that doesn’t change the fact that how they got to OKC was a bit shady. After struggles to get public funding for a stadium update in Seattle, Howard Schultz sold the Seattle SuperSonics to an ownership group based in Oklahoma City. Almost immediately after the sale, the new owners announced a planned move to OKC. Though Stern wasn’t necessarily directly involved in the relocation, he didn’t necessarily oppose it either. With the underhanded way things transpired with that situation, it’s something that still looks bad to this day.
3. Unexpected Death of Len Bias
The tragic death of Len Bias broke the hearts of many when he passed in June of 1986. The second overall pick’s life was taken away less than two days after he fulfilled his NBA dreams by being selected by the Boston Celtics due to a cocaine overdose. Seeing a young star on top of the world be cut down in his prime was devastating for the league and the fans. Rest in peace, Len.
2. Malice at the Palace
The ugliest on-court incident in the history of the NBA happened at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004 between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) got things started when he fouled Ben Wallace hard from behind, starting a slight shoving match. Artest then plopped down on the announcers table and put a headset on. That’s when things got dicey. A fan threw Diet Coke on Artest, causing the Pacers forward to bolt into the stands and grab a fan (not the one who actually threw the drink). Stephen Jackson then entered the stands, throwing punches. Artest and Jermaine O’Neal then got into it with two fans who had come onto the court, both fans getting punched by the NBA players.
The Malice at the Palace resulted in nine players being suspended for a combined total of 146 games (86 of them going to Artest). Five players also faced criminal charges that resulted in minimal punishment eventually. Nonetheless, the Malice in the Palace is the day in NBA history that will live in infamy. However, it’s not the worst moment during David Stern’s tenure.
1. Tim Donaghy Betting Scandal
The news of NBA referee Tim Donaghy betting on games that he officiated broke in 2007 and absolutely rocked the league. Donaghy was fixing games by means of his whistle for personal gain. He was eventually sentenced to federal prison for 15 months, but the integrity of the game at that time was already compromised. Refs have long been scapegoated in basketball and sports in general, but the Donaghy scandal erased any bit of good will that was ever there with officials and, to a lesser degree, the league.