Stern committed to ‘what was right’
By Tim Frank
(Editor’s note: Altoona native Tim Frank worked closely with ex-NBA commissioner David Stern for more than two decades. He offers his perspective to the Mirror on Stern, who passed Wednesday at the age of 77.)
When the phone rang, you knew you had to be ready.
If David Stern was calling, the verbal sparring was about to commence. Even if you thought you had the answers, David would find a way to make you realize he knew just a little more than you did.
But on this day, the call was different. The previous afternoon, David had made an unpopular decision, at least publicly, and the pundits were hitting him from all directions.
Frankly, David sort of thrived off the critics, and he loved for people to know he was in charge. One time after suspending a player, a media member asked if the decision was unanimous to suspend him.
David’s response? “Yes, it was unanimous. 1-0.”
As I picked up the phone on this day, however, I found a calm and introspective David Stern, who simply said to me, “Wow, I’m really getting my ass kicked today, huh?”
It wasn’t said with the normal sadistic pleasure he took when someone was questioning him but more like a stunned acknowledgment that so many people thought he was wrong.
We reviewed some of the attacks on him, and while we both chuckled a bit, we knew the story had turned against us.
I decided to take my shot at changing his mind.
Truthfully, I completely agreed with the decision he had made, but I felt bad to see him getting skewered.
I remember telling him that I didn’t understand why he always had to be the guy to take the bullets, and perhaps this was a time he didn’t have to be the fall guy.
There was a long pause, and in a very fatherly tone, he flatly asked me if I thought his decision was wrong. I told him I agreed completely with him, but I wasn’t sure it was important enough to take the hits.
He carefully explained to me that this was the job he was hired to do, that it was his responsibility to do what’s right, not what’s popular.
He rhetorically said to me that if I agreed with him, why should he change his mind? To please people? So people will like him more?
He made it clear that he would never do the job that way and said, “I’ll do what I think is best and live with the results.”
Many have still never forgiven David for the decision he made that day. Some have created their own false narrative about why he did it or how it came to be. But for me, it was the story that defined David Stern and never left me.
The guy stood for something and never took the easy way out. He could be tough, unreasonable, stubborn and many of the other things that you’ve probably heard along the way.
But he was also the guy who would insist everyone call him David, who made social responsibility one of the most important elements of our business and who created an entire league because he believed women were not getting the opportunity to flourish in the game he loved.
His commitment was always to what he thought was right.
Now that David has passed, there will be no more calls. No more sparring between two stubborn guys.
But what will always be there is my profound respect for him and an appreciation for what he did for this “crack PR guy” from Altoona, Pa.
My life simply would have not been the same without him.
Tim Frank, 48, is a 1989 graduate of Altoona Area High School and a 1993 graduate of Notre Dame. He has worked for the NBA since 2001 and became the league’s senior vice president of communications in 2010.