With the pervasive popularity of rap music and a black man sitting in the White House, there's no reason to pretend the NBA has been handicapped by the blackness of basketball. There's no reason to judge Stern on some sort of curve. He doesn't get extra-credit points for running a league dominated by black players.
Basketball is America's sport. Every man, woman and child plays basketball at some point. People in wheelchairs play basketball. The game isn't expensive to play. You can play by yourself. It's accessible.
Basketball should be more popular. In my opinion, the NBA should rival the NFL. At the very least, no way should the NFL be five times more popular than the NBA. No way. Stern rode Bird, Magic and Jordan to an unprecedented level of relevance and success. The league has lost relevance since the end of that era. That's inexcusable for a league with LeBron, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and teams as likable as the Spurs, Pacers, Warriors, Thunder, etc.
Stern focused too much of the league's relevance on individual superstars at the expense of promoting teams, rivalries and championships. He has never understood the importance of the health of college basketball. College football fuels the popularity of pro football. It's just the opposite in basketball. College and NBA fans hate each other.
A great NBA commissioner during Stern's reign would've forced a conversation about ways to keep elite basketball players in college for three or four years. Stern should've been the outspoken champion of ending shamateur athletics. He should've worked tirelessly to figure out how to financially reward Kobe for attending Duke for four years.
The more popular and entertaining college basketball is, the more popular the NBA would be. If Stern was/is aware of this, I've never heard him say it publicly. What I've heard is his defenders blame the NBA players' association and its former executive director, Billy Hunter, for the league's inability to construct an agenda that moves all basketball forward.
That's a copout taken from the same script that credits Stern for cleaning up a drugged-out, black league. Translation: "He's working with black guys. What do you expect? He's handicapped."
Stern did not have an easy job. He ruled a league filled with superfamous young people. That's extremely difficult. The average NBA player is far more famous (and delusional) than the average football or baseball player. The fame is a curse and a blessing.
The racial politics of the NBA also presented problems. When Stern appropriately told his Allen Iverson-influenced players to take off their white T's, pull up their sagging pants and dress like grown men coming to work, media idiots screamed racism.
Commissioner is a tough job. Stern earned an estimated $20 million a year. I expected more from him and his league. He bullied the wrong people for the wrong reason. Given the dysfunction and immorality in NCAA athletics, the NBA commissioner is the de facto leader of all of basketball.
I don't believe Stern healed the game of American basketball. I think he contributed to its division. You can go a million other places and read about all the great things Stern accomplished during his reign. He's been writing that narrative for 30 years. Enjoy.