Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a founding father of the sports greening movement, has worked with most of the commissioners of the major North American sports leagues since the mid-2000s. Co-founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance, Hershkowitz is currently the New York Yankees’ environmental science advisor as well as the chairman and founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).
In today’s guest column, Hershkowitz offers a tribute to former NBA commissioner David Stern, with a particular focus on his work on behalf of the environment. Stern passed away on December 31 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
In 2007, my colleagues and I at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) began collaborating with NBA Commissioner David Stern and members of his staff. Our goal was to create an NBA environmental initiative, which resulted in our creation of NBAGreen, the League’s successful sustainability initiative. David Stern was one of the first sports commissioners to speak publicly about the need for climate action.
I watched Commissioner Stern inspire and mentor an extraordinarily diverse and talented group of NBA colleagues, encouraging them all to pay attention to the environmental challenges we face. Through his support for NBAGreen and the senior leadership he assigned to lead it, David Stern helped create one of the most influential environmental projects in the world. Not just in sports: In business, and in culture as well.
David Stern was a tireless champion for environmental health and justice. He believed in sound science, and was a transformative cultural innovator, two traits that led him to leverage the influential cultural and market platform of the NBA to promote environmental literacy.
A practical idealist, David’s top eco-concern was climate change. He allocated funds a decade ago to set up a system to calculate energy use and greenhouse gases at all NBA venues and events, and he supported fan education through animation, TV, as well as social and traditional media. Eco-ads about energy use aired on NBATV thanks to David and he encouraged all NBA teams, venues, sponsors and fans to recycle, compost, use eco-intelligent transportation and to think about shifting to renewable energy. David also supported the greening of the NBA’s premier events, including the All-Star Game, Draft, Playoffs and Finals.
David’s view of sustainability was broad, going beyond just the environment. Words can only belittle how committed David was to inclusive racial and gender diversity and equality, qualities that are now deeply embedded in NBA culture. He saw the need to authentically respect the evolving cultural empowerment of athletes and shifting demographics among fans. As a result, the entire NBA ecosystem is more racially and gender diverse than most leagues.
After he died, Kathy Behrens, NBA President for Social Responsibility and Player Programs, told me “David always made things better.” I saw that, and I saw as well that he always wanted to help. I learned much from his natural style of servant leadership.
David Stern left a visionary legacy committed to service, to humanitarian purpose. His intelligent life was marked by probity, fairness, generosity, and success by playing by the rules. He was a blessing to many, and the NBA’s growing global commitment to sustainability will forever benefit from his vision of a green and peaceful planet. I wish he had lived longer. David had so much to offer, so much good. I join thousands who send condolences to Dianne and family.
GSB’s Take: It says here that David Stern and the late Pete Rozelle, who led the NFL from 1960-1989, are the two greatest, most consequential commissioners in North American pro sports history.
Stern helped turn the NBA from a relatively small league whose playoff games were aired on tape delay into, arguably, the second most popular sports league in the world after the English Premier League. His innovations were legion, from bringing the NBA and its players to the Olympics, starting with the iconic Dream Team in 1992, to launching the WNBA to welcoming foreign-born players.
On the environment and climate, Stern deserves much praise for his public support of climate science, for being an early supporter of the Green Sports Alliance, as well as for midwifing NBAGreen.
The latter still has room for growth in terms of overall public awareness and impact. It is now on Adam Silver — Stern’s successor as NBA commissioner — and his team to take the the league to the next level on climate.