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Stern highlights 2014 Hoop Hall class

Date: 8/13/2014

SPRINGFIELD – The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 was inducted Aug. 8 and was led not by a player, but by the man who steered the National Basketball Association (NBA) for 30 years and grew the game from a niche sport into an international phenomenon.

David Stern, who retired in February after exactly 30 years as the NBA commissioner, took control of the game back when television revenue was $10 million per season. The NBA now makes more than $900 million in television revenue.

“It’s the game. It’s a great game and people came to appreciate how great it was,” Stern commented when asked about the growth. “Look at the body of work. We took a sport regarded as ‘too black’ to make it mainstream [and we made it global].”

One of the first international stars, Sarunas Marciulionis, was inducted with Stern. He came over from Lithuania in 1989 to play guard for the Golden State Warriors after being drafted in 1987. He was one of the first international players to get significant playing time and help pioneer the way for future players to come to the United States to play basketball.

Marciulionis joked, “Tony Parker’s father said [I] should charge at least five percent for each contract for each person who enter[ed] after [me]. I’m just happy I passed the test [and] other athletes can come visit after us and make money. Now we have over 20 percent foreigners in the NBA league.”

On opening day of the 1989 season, there were 15 international players on NBA rosters. The 2013-2014 season featured 92. Stern attributes the growth of international popularity to the success of television during his tenure.

“It’s television,” Stern said. “Dirk [Nowitzki] grew up watching Larry [Bird], Magic [Johnson]. Players see the game and countrymen through the game. The result is many more international players than we’d ever thought we’d have.”

After 30 years at the helm, Stern felt that he accomplished everything he hoped to.

“I don’t have any regrets. We’d like to not have locked out or shut down or players suspended for violence incidents but that’s life of a sports league and fans judge us on our response,” he explained.

The class of 2014 also featured the comeback story of Alonzo Mourning. The seven-time NBA All-Star was forced to retire in November 2003 due to a life threatening kidney illness. His cousin, Jason Cooper, donated his left kidney to Mourning and it allowed him to return to the game in 2005 and win an NBA championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat.

It’s an achievement that he says does not belong to him because it took many people to help him overcome his ailment.

“Hey, listen, my kidney doctor [Dr. Gerald Appel] is here now. I always felt like it took a team of individuals that helped me to this point, helped me get back on the court playing the game of basketball and to experience that moment of June 20, 2006, when we won our first NBA Championship. Helping contribute to that and having taken the path I took to get there made it even more special,” Mourning said after the Hall of Fame press conference.

“Now [the Enshrinement Ceremony] gives me the opportunity to celebrate them and to take them into the Hall with me,” he continued. “I’m truly excited about this enshrinement. There’s no other place to go from here but heaven ... This is the reward for your passion for the game, playing the game the right way and contributing to the game.”

Mourning commented on the class of 2014, “I see a class of individuals that has contributed to the game in so many different ways. I think basketball has evolved because of the way people have given to it from a global perspective ... There’s just so many different contributions to the game from so many walks of life and that’s what makes this class special.”

Stern has unquestionably had the largest impact on the game. He also oversaw the launch of the NBA Developmental League (D-League), which had a team in Springfield until this past year when the Springfield Armor moved to Michigan, a change that Stern was sorry happened.

“It’s too bad. I think Springfield is a good city for [the D-League], good potential. I hope it comes back,” he acknowledged. “[Overall, the D-League] is outdoing [my expectations]. I think it’s taken awhile. It started with eight teams, that don’t exist anymore, and has evolved to 19 teams. I have no doubt it will be well into the 20s [soon].”

The rest of the class included six-time NBA all-star and NBA champion Mitch Richmond; former University of Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson; former University of Maryland coach Gary Williams; the American Basketball Association’s, which merged with the NBA, winningest coach Bob Leonard; Nat Clifton, who was the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract; four-time NBA all-star Guy Rodgers; and the Immaculata University team. Rodgers and Clifton are both enshrined posthumously.