Do-rags and baggy jeans were out.
Sport coats and wingtips were in.
Still, Stern and his league were battling perception problems. The NBA Finals were watched by 13.0 million viewers in 2006 and 9.3 million in 2007, and those were some pretty good matchups. The Dwyane Wade/Shaquille O'Neal Heat won four consecutive games after losing the first two to the Dirk Nowitzki Mavs in 2006, while LeBron James carried the Cavaliers into the franchise's first ever finals in 2007. They got swept by the Spurs, but still, LeBron was must-see TV.
Or so you'd think.
The number of TV viewers in 2006 and 2007 were two of the three worst totals for the Finals in 30 years.
There are a lot of reasons why the numbers have grown steadily since then — new stars, outstanding promotion of those stars and more broadcasts of regular-season games have increased the popularity of the league — but little ol' Oklahoma City has been part of the league's image overhaul.
The NBA took a chance on a flyover city that never had anything bigger than Triple-A baseball, and what has come of it has been better than anyone expected. An exciting team that is winning fans everywhere. (Did you see the Thunder fans in Miami?) A good group that rarely if ever pops up on the police blotter. Two of the league's biggest stars, including one of sports most beloved superstars.
Has there ever been a player as good as Kevin Durant who is more widely loved?
He is a rare bird.
Oklahoma City and the Thunder have been an extremely bright spot for the NBA. The team has been the flagship for what Stern was trying to accomplish — you can be young and exciting without being crazy and in trouble all the time.
Now, some folks will bring up the whole Seattle thing, and there's no denying that in a contentious and ugly chapter in Oklahoma City's NBA tale. But what has grown up since the franchise arrived in the city has been nothing but good for the league.
So, while there are plenty of reasons for OKC to thank David Stern, he can reply in kind.
This city and this commish have been good for each other.
Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.