David Stern is the longtime commissioner of the NBA, where he has ruled with an iron fist while building the league into a massive powerhouse.
Teaneck native Stern's first job was at the family delicatessen, but after attending Rutgers and Columbia Law, in 1967 he joined the law firm of Proskauer Rose as an associate. (Michael Cardozo, now the chief lawyer for New York City, was his classmate at Columbia and colleague at Proskauer Rose.) He made partner in 1974 and spent much of the decade as the NBA's lead attorney, before joining the league as general counsel in 1978. Two years later, he was named executive vice president. He became the league's fourth-ever commissioner in 1984, and he's clung on to the job ever since.
When Stern took over the struggling league in the 1980s, it hovered on the edge of bankruptcy. With a little help from greats like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, Stern's turned it into an international marketing powerhouse. The hard-charging commissioner has presided over enormous growth in attendance and revenue, overseen the creation of the WNBA, and expanded the franchise abroad. (NBA teams now play dozens of exhibition games in Europe and Asia.) He also boosted the league's fortunes by cutting big broadcast deals and expanded online with NBA.com. Often described as the most skillful executive in sports, Stern is also the most powerful, exercising a level of control over the NBA that his counterparts in the NFL, MLB, and NHL can only dream about.
Stern's tendency to micromanage has ruffled feathers. In 2005, in the wake of the Kobe Bryant sex scandal, Stern established a dress code that mandates dress clothes for all league-related public appearances (no do-rags or Timberlands, please) and restricts the accessories that players can wear on court (please keep the clunky jewelry at home). The policy earned him some derision from players—and even prompted Nas to take aim at him in a song.
But the reaction to the dress code was nothing compared to the backlash when the league introduced a new microfiber ball in 2006. It was supposed to be more consistent than the old leather ones, but players hated it, and the old ball was brought back on January 1, 2007. An even bigger scandal unfolded in July 2007, when it surfaced that veteran NBA referee Tim Donaghy had bet on league games. Stern suspended the crooked ref indefinitely.
Stern is chair emeritus of Columbia University's board of trustees. He's also served on the boards of Rutgers University, Beth Israel Medical Center, and the NAACP.
Stern is married to Diane Bock Stern. They have two sons and live in Scarsdale.