David Stern, the publicly charming, privately boorish and always opportunistic visionary who helped lift the NBA from the dark ages of championship tape delays into a popular, multi-billion dollar global sensation, announced recently that he plans to step down as commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014.
Stern’s decision to retire after 30 years has allowed many to reflect on the titanium-fisted reign of one of the greatest commissioners in the history of professional sports. The 70-year-old son of a New York deli owner, Stern has navigated the league through almost every social, racial and political obstacle, made players and owners abundantly wealthy through franchise expansion and innovative marketing endeavors, and pushed for basketball to be the second-most popular sport after soccer abroad, even as the professional game is a distant third at home.
Current deputy commissioner and chief operation officer Adam Silver will replace Stern, and the transition sets the stage for one of the more dramatic shifts the NBA will encounter in recent memory.
The 2012-13 season is barely underway but the year 2014 is already setting up to be a memorable time for movement of league superstars, departures of current legendary figures and the arrival of promising young talent. Silver could be stepping into an exciting era for the NBA. Here’s how:
LeBron James hits free agency again?
Two years removed from his controversial Decision, three-time league most valuable player LeBron James could be facing another league-altering choice in two years. James has an opt-out clause in his six-year deal with Miami that could allow him to become a free agent in 2014. By then, James will be just 29, in the prime of his career, and in pursuit of his newly stated goal of going down as “the best of all time.”
James has found a home and finally captured that elusive championship ring in Miami, but teammate Dwyane Wade is getting older and the lure of possibly forming another super team – in Los Angeles with Dwight Howard or wherever Chris Paul plays – or even a reunion in scorned Cleveland could be too attractive for him to pass. Aside from James, the 2014 free agent class could also feature Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut, Rudy Gay and restricted free agents John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas, Orlando, Atlanta and Washington are well positioned to make moves that summer.
Kobe Bryant to retire?
Arguably the best player of the post-Michael Jordan NBA, Kobe Bryant has repeatedly said that he plans to complete the final two years of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and retire from the NBA at age 35. In his possible final campaign in 2013-14, Bryant would join Jordan as the only NBA players to earn at least $30 million in a season. Already tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson for the most championship rings won as a Laker, Bryant has time to also continue his pursuit of Jordan in both scoring and titles. Bryant needs less than 3,000 points to hurdle Jordan for third on the all-time scoring list and the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard put him in position to match Jordan with six – or surpass him with seven – championships. If Bryant decides to walk away, Paul Pierce, whose contract expires at the same time, and Tim Duncan, who signed a three-year contract last summer that has a player option after two years, could also join him – and Stern – on rocking chairs.
Influx of new hope
Chicago’s Jabari Parker and Canadian Andrew Wiggins have both been billed as the best prospects since LeBron James, and they will be eligible for the 2014 NBA draft. Parker, a 6-foot-8 small forward, has been considered the No. 1 ranked player in his class for some time and has already appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But he also faces an interesting choice between chasing his NBA dreams and going on a Mormon mission. Wiggins, a 6-7 small forward, was supposed to be in his junior season at Huntington Prep (W.Va.) but reclassified himself as a senior to shake up two college recruiting classes and two NBA draft classes.