Maybe that helps explain why Stern became such a lightning rod for criticism during the latter years of his tenure, which will come to an end on Feb. 1, 2014 when he is replaced by current deputy commissioner Adam Silver.
Sometimes it was Stern who had to take a principled stand and absorb the flak that came with it, whether it was in 1998 when he shut the league down for the first time ever but emerged from that lockout with a labor deal that included a maximum player salary — the mechanism that has managed to create a system in which LeBron James, Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon all make about the same amount of money. There will never be an A-Rod contract in the NBA, and Stern had to be the designated bad guy to get that for his owners.
Just a year ago Stern was making another of his principled stands. He was enduring another lockout, making the case that the NBA’s old economic system no longer worked in today’s economic world, and the players were going to have to accept a deal that cut their share of revenues from 57 percent to something closer to a 50/50 split.
It was an astronomical financial grab, but Stern felt it was within his reach after enduring two previous rounds of collective bargaining with players union chief Billy Hunter.
Stern wanted to go for the kill on the third go-round, and he was Doomsday Dave for month after month before finally getting the union to accept a collective bargaining agreement that was a monumental triumph for the owners.
All of this came at a price.
When Stern announced the first 30 draft picks at the NBA Draft in Newark last June, the fans booed him as loudly prior to the first pick as they did prior to the 30th pick.
When Stern handed the championship trophy to Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, he was booed.
When Stern goes to Miami next week for the Heat’s ring ceremony, he’ll hear more of the same.
He was a bully, Stern was, but every successful company needs a designated bad guy if it is going to be successful.
Stern realized that the bad guy had to be him sometimes, and he absorbed the flak that came with that designation.
But when Feb. 1, 2014 comes and goes and we don’t have Stern to kick around anymore, how are we going to remember him? How will history judge him?