The wildest scene the league had ever seen — beer coming from the stands, players decking fans and pure bedlam ensuing all over the Palace of Auburn Hills — was being broadcast live on national TV, to his dismay.
The incident, which will forever be known as "The Malice at the Palace," took place on Nov. 19, 2004, some 15 years ago.
He encountered several dilemmas in his nearly 30-year tenure as commissioner – including Latrell Sprewell attempting to strangle his coach, referee Tim Donaghy getting busted betting on games and two labor disputes that ended in lockout-shortened seasons.
And he believes none caused him more panic than the "existential crisis" of Magic Johnson retiring from HIV, a situation that, at the time, felt like a death sentence, not just the end of an all-time great's career.
The residuals of the overly-physical, infuriatingly isolation-happy style from the previous decade had bogged down the game, creating a product that was becoming more difficult to watch.
Stern sought out a trusted team owner, Jerry Colangelo, to establish a committee to implement new rules to energize the league, because the games had gotten ugly.
The NBA did away with the defensive guidelines that wouldn't allow teams to play zone, forced teams to advance the ball beyond half court in eight seconds instead of 10 and hand checking was hand checked.
That has resulted in a product that's easier to watch and promote, with increased scoring providing more opportunities for more than one star to emerge on teams.
Stern concurred. "I believe that our players are seen as thoughtful, concerned citizens who work for good causes, have views that are encouraged by Adam and their teams to speak on issues that concern them,"
he said. "And that's a position that they've earned to be listened to, to lead the way on important issues."
The NBA has avoided having a duplication of what occurred in suburban Detroit, but the past year has exposed how delicate the situation remains.
Westbrook had a heated exchange with a fan at a Utah Jazz fan that, fortunately, never escalated beyond words but saw the fan banned for life from all events at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
"It's respect for the game," he continued, "It's respect that leads to restraint when fans are abusive.
It's the same respect for causing players to form their own foundations and visit schools and do things together with their teams.
There's really been a lot of cooperation, between teams and players, to uplift this game and get our players the status they deserve."