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David Stern, former NBA commissioner for 30 years, dies at 77

Former NBA commissioner David Stern, a visionary who turned the pro basketball league into a popular and global multibillion-dollar business and became one of the best commissioners in pro sports, died Wednesday, the league announced. He was 77 years old.

Stern suffered a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 12 and underwent emergency brain surgery.

“For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action,” current NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends … David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA.”

Born on Sept. 22, 1942, Stern was the son of a New York City deli owner and worked at the deli as a kid. He developed a fondness for the New York Knicks and attended Knicks games with his father, who used to slip an usher a few bucks in exchange for better seats.

Stern never strayed far from the game. After college at Rutgers and law school at Columbia University, Stern began a five-decade association with the NBA, first as an attorney for Proskauer Rose, a high-powered law firm that represented the NBA. It also happened to be the firm where Silver’s father, Edward, worked as a labor attorney and chairman.

David Stern served as NBA commissioner from 1984-2014.

Stern joined the NBA as general counsel in 1978, became executive vice president in 1980 and was named commissioner in 1984, beginning a 30-year run in charge of the league until 2014 when Silver took over.

During that 30-year span, Stern altered the NBA in ways that seemed impossible in the mid-1980s, creating lucrative TV deals and corporate sponsorships, a global audience and marketable superstars, starting with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and continuing with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.