SALT LAKE CITY — Conspiracy theorists might be happy with Thursday's news that David Stern will step down from his long-held commissioner role in 2014.
But players and brass of the Utah Jazz, a small-market organization that stands to benefit from the most-recent Collective Bargaining Agreement he helped orchestrate, were nothing but complimentary and respectful in their comments about the commish.
Jazz CEO Greg Miller released a statement lauding Stern for having "consistently demonstrated a sincere interest in the well-being of our franchise" since 1985 when the late Larry H. Miller bought the franchise outright.
"He has been fair and objective. During his tenure as commissioner, the NBA has seen unprecedented grown and development," Miller continued. "On behalf of the Larry Miller family, I would like to express gratitude to David for all he has done to help build and strengthen the Utah Jazz, and wish him a healthy and happy future."
Stern gets much of the business-side credit for putting the NBA in a spot where it can also have a financially healthy and happy future.
As the Associated Press put it, Stern turned a league that couldn't get its championship series on live prime-time TV three decades ago into a projected $5 billion a year global giant.
In his first 28 years, Stern also oversaw the addition of seven new franchises, helped create a 30-fold revenue increase, helped get significantly more national TV exposure and launched two leagues, the WNBA and D-League.
Stern will continue as commissioner until Feb. 1, 2014, his 30th anniversary on the job. He will then be replaced current deputy commissioner, Adam Silver, who received a unanimous vote by the NBA Board of Governors, which includes Miller.
"I decided that things are in great shape," Stern said, "and there's an organization in place that will ultimately be led by Adam that is totally prepared to take it to the next level."
Silver said the 70-year-old Stern will be remembered as "the best of all-time as commissioners go." The NBA's boss of three decades used his pointed lawyer skills to negotiate with players and referees as well as to implement key policies — from the salary cap to drug testing.
Then again, some will remember Stern for playing a part in the NBA's lockout-shortened season last year and for perceptions, true or false, that he played favorites with large-market teams, whether in draft lotteries or in the playoffs.
Don't count the Jazz among that group.
"When you're in a position like that … you can't worry about what people say," 12-year NBA veteran Earl Watson said. "Reputation is what people think about you; character is what you really are. I think his reign in the NBA speaks for itself — where he's taken the game from where he got it to now."
The 33-year-old Watson, who spent limited time with the commissioner on international trips, credited Stern for what he's done for the game and for helping kids. The NBA Cares program, for example, has raised more than $205 million for charity and provided 2.1-million hours of community service since 2005.
The Jazz guard also pointed out Stern's creativity, branding and expanding efforts, which he said have turned the NBA into the fastest-growing global professional sport. His memories of Stern span decades.
"Growing up in the NBA in the '80s I knew four names. I knew Magic, Jordan, Bird, David Stern. They were household names when you thought about the NBA," Watson said. "Just the chance to be in the NBA and have him lead, I think it's been amazing."
Tyrone Corbin, who's mostly been in the NBA in one capacity or another since 1985, described Stern's eventual departure as being "sad for the league." The Jazz coach insisted the commissioner has been good for his organization and the entire NBA.
"He's very, very, very respected throughout the world," Corbin said. "For not only basketball but in business — for how he's built this industry and for how the game has taken tremendous strides for the better since he's been running the league. He will be sorely missed."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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