David Stern is set to retire as NBA commissioner at the end of the week.
Count Miami Heat president Pat Riley among Stern's biggest fans.
"David Stern is the No. 1 force, the No. 1 reason why this league is where it is today," Riley told USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. "That's not disrespectful to any one great player in any one era or any owner. This has to do with the leadership of one man.
"Over that span of time, things don't change because they're coincidences. They don't. There's somebody at the top who is going to eliminate what is bad and market what is good. He was a very forceful, very pragmatic visionary."
Stern, 71, leaves the NBA as a business that generates more than $5.5 billion per year. The average player salary is more than $4 million, and the league has a $1 billion per year TV rights deal, according to Zillgitt.
"David is one of the top business leaders of his generation," said deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who'll take over for Stern. "His legacy will be that he brought modern business practices to sports leagues. He was a CEO/commissioner who while focused on growing a major business also preached that there's nothing more important than the game.
"He was always concerned about the health and welfare of every club and recognized how important it was to create a partnership with our players and their union. He also realized that as stewards of the game, we're ultimately responsible for ensuring that it prospers and that it keeps pace with modern technology."
Stern, who grew up a Knicks fan in New York City and later northern New Jersey, leaves his post on Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years to the day after he took over.
"David Stern is the single most important person in the history of basketball," former NBA player and broadcaster Bill Walton said. "He has used basketball to make the world a better place. ... He is a master at getting to what's next."SI WIRE: Kobe Bryant happy to give Carmelo Anthony advice in free agency