"Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand - making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation," his successor, Adam Silver, said in a statement.
"Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David's vision, generosity and inspiration."
Stern took over the NBA in February 1984. Basketball then drew in smaller television audiences and less money than other US sports like baseball and American football.
But during his time in charge he helped build the NBA's profile with a focus on its star players - making people like Michael Jordan household names around the world.