David Stern was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachussetts Friday night and reminded us that "It's always about the game." Stern was the commissioner of the NBA from 1984 to 2014, a 30-year run that included immense growth in the sport of basketball and its greatest league. He was accompanied by five men on stage with Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Russ Granik, Larry Bird, and Bob Lanier all representing different important parts of Stern's commissionership.
Bill Russell, the league's greatest winner, was there to represent two things. First, he's arguably the most important figure both on and off the court in league history. His 11 championships in 13 seasons set a benchmark that will never be matched and gives superstars of today and the future something to always strive to match. Secondly, his presence reminded us how important celebrating the past of the NBA is for the present and future of this game and league. Russell didn't have a great relationship with the NBA when Stern started running the league but over time, the NBA was able to bring Russell back into the picture and make him a great ambassador for the game in the present. They've even made him a part of every NBA Finals celebration with the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy being presented by him.
Magic Johnson was on stage because not only is he one of the greatest players and ambassadors this sport has ever known, but the awareness he and the NBA were able to bring to HIV and AIDS has had a monumental impact on society in general. It went from being a death sentence to being something that has been fought for decades as the medical industry continues to make progress in combatting the disease. Magic was thought to be as good as gone as soon as news got out he had contracted HIV, but his presence on stage shows the thoughts and realities of such a disease have changed dramatically over the last two decades.
Russ Granik accompanied Stern on stage to represent everybody the former commissioner has worked with in the league offices. One of Stern's greatest accomplishments as the commissioner of the NBA is the global growth of the game. Granik helped put together the Dream Team and an agreement with FIBA to have professionals in the NBA representing USA Basketball in Olympics and World Championship competitions. It's helped galvanize the growth of the sport across Europe, Asia, Africa, South American, and more.
Larry Bird was on stage to remind us that if you're a great player and figure in the NBA, your career doesn't end simply by retiring from playing. Bird has been a successful coach, front office executive, and investor in the NBA. It helps that he's one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers, but he's also used his basketball knowledge and presence to find great success in various different positions in the NBA after he retired from the game in 1993.
Bob Lanier was also a great player in the history of the NBA, but he was there to represent two things from Stern's time as commissioner. Lanier has been instrumental in getting the NBA Cares and Basketball Without Borders programs off and running. His involvement with the two movements has helped make both a rousing success around the world and has helped add to the global growth of basketball. He also was the key figure in helping eradicate dangerous drug use from the norm of NBA players when it was at its worst in the 1980's. Lanier made it clear he didn't want it to seem like you had to do drugs if you were in this position as an athlete and helped come up with the severe punishments that largely helped eliminate the use of cocaine amongst players.
Overall, the 2014 Hall of Fame class showed the depth of this league and the reach it can have. And as Stern said throughout his speech, it's always about the game of basketball. The game is what endures and allows such great figures to come through our lives and entertain us to no end. You may have had issues with plenty of moments during Stern's run as commissioner, but the NBA is in a better place because of his role in helping build the league up to becoming a global entity.