In David Stern‘s 30 transformative years as NBA commissioner, two on-court memories reportedly stood out. One of them happened to be at the Olympics.
Specifically, the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the first Olympics with NBA players growing the sport into a global game.
“The march to the gold medal stand, being feted like a combination of the Bolshoi, the Philharmonic and the Beatles,” Stern said before transitioning out of the commissioner role in 2014, according to The New York Times. Stern died Wednesday at age 77.
Stern noted two favorite memories, both from 1992. The other: awarding Magic Johnson the NBA All-Star Game MVP honor in the Laker great’s first game since announcing he had contracted HIV.
“When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand,” Johnson tweeted Wednesday. “When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world.”
As for Olympic basketball, the key year for Stern was 1985. That’s when Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik welcomed FIBA secretary general Bora Stankovic for a New York meeting. But the NBA execs were far from on board with what would come to fruition seven years later.
“David and I thought that global basketball came with as many burdens as benefits,” Granik said, according to Jack McCallum‘s book “Dream Team,” “and that’s what we told Boris.”
In that meeting, Stern agreed to host what would become the 1987 McDonald’s Open, an event pitting the Milwaukee Bucks against an Italian club team and the Soviet national team. Two years later, a FIBA vote allowed NBA players into the Olympics, though the U.S. Amateur Basketball Association (ABAUSA) was one of the “nay” votes.
ABAUSA voted against it because colleges and high schools that made up most of its constituency opposed it, believing it would take Olympic spots away from amateurs. ”I’m not sure the NBA, if it had a vote, would have voted for it, either,” ABAUSA president Dave Gavitt said in 1989, according to The Associated Press.
“We knew it was going to pass,” Stern said, according to “Dream Team,” “but we were absolutely not enthusiastic about it.”
Then came the Barcelona Games. Stern sat near midcourt for the medal ceremony, where some players covered the Reebok logo on their uniforms, either with their jackets or, in the case of Michael Jordan, an American flag draped over a shoulder.
“[Stern] was proud (in general) of the way the NBA players had comported themselves, proud that they never seemed to rub it in (Charles Barkley‘s elbow not withstanding), proud that eight grind-the-other-guys-into-dust routs had been accomplished without an international incident. But he was also a businessman, schooled in the art of the dead, and was disappointed in the flags and the artfully zipped jackets,” McCallum wrote.
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