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Former NBA Commissioner David Stern Dies At 77

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The longest-serving NBA commissioner is dead. David Stern died today after suffering a brain hemorrhage last month. He led the NBA for 30 years, 30 years of explosive growth. And he took the league global. USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan joins me now to tell us more about David Stern. Hey there, Christine.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So in case people aren't familiar with David Stern, aren't big basketball fans, just remind us briefly who he was.

BRENNAN: When the NBA in the late 70s - when - before David Stern was in charge, the NBA actually had tape-delayed championship games. The NBA Finals were tape-delayed. This is before Magic Johnson, before Larry Bird, Mary Louise...

KELLY: Yeah.

BRENNAN: ...Before Michael Jordan. And this was a time when the NBA really was a second-rate league, and there were questions if it would even be able to survive and how it would. David Stern comes in and turns it not only into an incredible success story in the United States but the globalization of the game of basketball, including bringing basketball - the pros into the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. It's breathtaking. And I think you can look at David Stern and say that almost everything that the NBA is today, the incredible success story that it is, is due to the leadership of David Stern.

KELLY: We were just checking Twitter. And I see Scottie Pippen has been tweeting, saying that Stern was almost always the smartest person in the room when he dealt with them. And he made the point you just did, talking about what an innovator he was who helped grow basketball into a global game. How did David Stern do that?

BRENNAN: First of all, he understood that it was much more than just about a game in the United States, even though, of course, basketball was born in the United States. He - the way he did it initially was to have the pros go to the Olympic Games. And that the dream team - of course, the term dream team, I think, anyone - even if you don't care about basketball, you've heard the term dream team. And you know that that means Magic and Bird and Jordan and the 1992 Olympic Games. And that is, of course, something that has persisted to this day. I think that also, the fact that there are so many international players now playing in the NBA. So you cheer your local - you know, your NBA team, and you're often cheering two, three, four international players, as well as kids that - you know, guys that you watch play in American colleges. And that was ground-breaking, as well.

KELLY: The launch of the Women's NBA was also on his watch.

BRENNAN: Exactly. I was about to say that. You read my mind, Mary Louise. You know, this was something whose time had come after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the success of the U.S. women's basketball team. And David Stern helped engineer this. And originally, the idea was to the NBA owners, hey, listen. Your arenas are empty during the summer. Let's fill them with women's basketball. And these owners bought on. There was some arm twisting going on. But it happened. And now - then you had WNBA teams. Some have been successes. Some weren't quite as successful, but the perseverance of those owners and David Stern telling the owners, you're going to do this - now the WNBA is doing so much better. Many times now - women owners. The league has the best, you know, basketball players in the world. And that again is, I think, a huge thank you for women's sports to David Stern.

KELLY: Christine Brennan, thank you.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much.

KELLY: That is USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan remembering David Stern, who died today. He led the NBA for 30 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.