David Stern just is. He’s not good; he’s not bad; he’s not a hero; he’s not a villain. It’s not even that his legacy is more complicated than that. It’s less. Over the course of a nearly half-century-long career in the NBA, he has staked out a position as an almost gravitational force, influential to the point of having changed the league’s DNA, and to grade him separately from the league he transformed would be impossible. And the beauty of it is that David Stern doesn’t care, either. David Stern does what he does, and frankly, he doesn’t give a fuck what you think about it.
As a personality, Stern has some parallel with the heels of professional wrestling, who tend to be viewed as characters that bask in and feed off of negative attention. But it isn’t quite the same. In wrestling, heels tend to need the boos to know that they’re succeeding; if there were no boos, they wouldn’t be heels. Their personalities stem from the perceptions of the audience, rather than the other way around. With Stern, it’s the opposite. At times, Stern has seemed to have an almost hilariously opaque perception of any human being who exists outside the orbit of the league that he controls, to the point that he essentially manipulated a lockout that stopped play at a point when the NBA was more popular than it had been since Jordan’s last seasons with the Bulls. He did this because he and his owners thought it was necessary, even though it wasn’t, even though they could’ve easily made amends and suffered very, very little.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that the league undersells its success and supports some of the weirdest, most crazy-misanthropic-tycoon owners of any professional sports league, Stern has demonstrated himself to be deaf to any and all criticism. And part of the absurdity is that it is true: in my opinion, the NBA is, by leaps and bounds, the best pro sport in the U.S. Not the most profitable, but the best. And with the NFL facing possibly life-threatening obstacles that stem from intrinsic elements of the game, it’s unlikely that this will change any time soon. Looking at the 2012 NBA season, professional basketball appears awfully near perfect, and Stern, who has been commish since 1984, is as much a part of that success as Michael Jordan is, or Hakeem Olajuwon, or LeBron James, or Adam Morrison, or Isiah Thomas and James Dolan and Donald Sterling. The NBA is a weird-ass mixture of personalities, but Stern isn’t so much the guy stirring that cauldron as he is a sizable but still integrated part of the formula. And even with him planning his exit for 2014, that’s unlikely to ever change.
And if you disagree, David Stern could really give a fuck. Just look at that GIF.