David Joel Stern died the first day of the New Year 2020. He was a man of international reputation, a leader beyond description and an amazing man who influenced many. I was fortunate to work for DJS (the internal NBA listing when speaking about the Boss) during my NBA career.
I first met David in 1985. I was a Continental Basketball Association referee (post Eastern League and forerunner to the G-League) driving to an Albany Patroons game, coached by Phil Jackson and his assistant Charlie Rosen. The snowstorm on the drive from my Jersey home became an ice storm when I entered New York. There was no way I would make it to the arena so I pulled over to make that call every official dreads. I found a phone booth (this was before cell phones) and made a collect call from “Bob Delaney CBA referee” to the NBA Office. The charges were accepted and I blurted the need to speak with someone in basketball operations because I could not make it to the Albany game due to an ice storm and then asked, “Who am I speaking with?” The response: “The Commissioner.” I started to explain who I was and he responded, “I know who you are; get home safe.”
I later learned from Matt Winick in the NBA Basketball Operations Department that DJS had sent almost everyone home due to the storm and he was taking care of the office.
Over the following decades I came to know a man who was as tough as they come and who had a big heart. I sat across the negotiating table from DJS as a National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) Board member during three contract negotiations and was “schooled” each time in that art. During a break in one session, David asked me why we were asking for a 30-day payment in the event of a player strike/lockout. I gave our thought process and he asked, “What if it goes beyond that time frame? Why are you locking me in to a time frame?” We took that item off the table and during the July 1998-Jan. 20, 1999 NBA lockout we received paychecks during that entire time.
True leaders see the invisible.
True leaders are problem solvers.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “A genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.”
David Stern was a genuine leader.
I retired as an NBA official in 2011. Thanksgiving Eve that year David called with holiday well wishes and asked about the post-traumatic stress work I was doing with the military. I spoke for a short period, then in his take-control manner, he said, “OK, I got it, you need to speak with Kathy Behrens (NBA President Social Responsibility/NBA Cares)” and shortly after I became an NBA Cares Ambassador working with Eric Di Miceli as part of the NBA’s Hoops for Troops programs.
David Stern saw the invisible and made it become reality.
Our relationship grew deeper and visits to his new post-retirement office overlooking Central Park at 745 Fifth Ave. (NBA office is 645 Fifth Ave.) became life lessons and mentoring sessions. The phone calls, email, texts will never be forgotten. He underlined to me often, “There is always a next act!” His encouragement, his words helped me understand there is always more to do.
A message we all should embrace in our personal, professional and officiating lives.
Heaven just got one hell of a next act!
RIP Boss … Godspeed Friend.