To Michael Jordan, without David Stern, “the NBA would not be what it is today.” Shaquille O’Neal said Stern was simply “the best commissioner to ever do it.”

In the wake of Stern’s death Wednesday, numerous NBA stars of the past and present paid tribute to the league’s longtime former commissioner. Many took to social media to offer remembrances of Stern, including Chris Paul, who wrote on Twitter, “The game lost a leader today.”

Stern died at 77 after suffering a brain hemorrhage while dining at a New York restaurant almost three weeks earlier. His association with the NBA started in 1966, when he began providing legal counsel, and while serving as commissioner from 1984 to 2014 he presided over a massive expansion of the league’s global reach and revenue streams.

His successor, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, said Wednesday in a statement: “Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand — making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”

Magic Johnson, who was described by Stern in 2013 as “probably more important to the NBA than any other player because he had a love of the game that was instantly recognizable,” said on Twitter that the former commissioner was a “great man, husband, father, friend, businessman, and visionary.”

Stern often cited Johnson’s HIV diagnosis in 1991 and subsequent return to the NBA as one of the most important episodes in league history because of the effect it had on a nation in a panic over AIDS. Johnson said Wednesday, “David Stern was such a history maker. When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand. When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world.”

“He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before,” Jordan said in a statement. “His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him — and I admired him for that.”

Among the dramatic transformations the NBA underwent while Stern ran it was not only securing its place among the premier sports leagues in the United States, but attracting avid fans and becoming a marketing force around the world. “I think he is the greatest person in NBA history. He made everything happen,” China’s Yao Ming said upon Stern’s retirement in 2014, and on Wednesday Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki called reports of his death “sad news,” adding “We lost a legend!”

“Thank you David Stern! You changed everything and we’re eternally grateful,” Canada’s Steve Nash tweeted. Spain’s Pau Gasol tweeted the “NBA family lost a legend, a leader that changed our game for the better.”

Heads of other leagues also offered words of praise Wednesday for Stern, including WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who said his “steadfast commitment to women’s sports was ahead of its time and has provided countless opportunities for women and young girls who aspire to play basketball.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that “David was a driving force in sports for decades and helped the NBA soar to new heights around the world,” while the NHL’s Gary Bettman called Stern “a man of great vision and energy who is responsible for the operational and business advancements that created the modern sports industry.”

Even an NBA owner who frequently butted heads with Stern — and was heavily fined by the former commissioner — was moved to mourn his passing. The Mavericks’ Mark Cuban tweeted, “You always said you made me and you were absolutely right. You were a friend, mentor and administrator of the largest donut fund ever. You are missed.”

“His impact on the league will leave a lasting imprint around the world and his fierce support of the team and this community is the reason why the Kings stayed in Sacramento,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “David’s enthusiasm for our city and belief in our fans will never be forgotten.”

The messages of gratitude and admiration from prominent NBA players on the day Stern died were the most affecting.

“Th[e] NBA and my family would not be in our position if wasn’t for one of the greatest Commissioners in professional sports,” tweeted Karl-Anthony Towns. “RIP David Stern. The game thanks you and will miss you.”

“The league wouldn’t be what it is today without you,” James Harden said on Twitter. “The entire NBA family and fans around the world will miss you.”

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