Stern's decision to walk away was announced Thursday after the Board of Governors met in Manhattan. He told the owners he is planning to step down; Stern said he's "not retiring." The board voted unanimously for Silver as the next NBA commissioner.
Most popular sports stories
"It's been a great run," Stern said. "It will continue for another 15 months. The league is, I think, in terrific condition."
Stern, 70, joined the NBA as outside counsel in 1966, became general counsel in 1978 and succeeded Larry O'Brien as commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. Since then, the NBA has enjoyed tremendous growth and global success.
Under Stern, the NBA expanded from 23 to 30 teams, television revenues skyrocketed and the WNBA and NBA Developmental League were established. Timberwolves owner and outgoing chairman of the Board of Governors Glen Taylor said the average salary of NBA players went from $250,000 when Stern took over to roughly $5 million now.
"David has been, in my estimation, the type of commissioner that has set the standard not only for the NBA but for all of the sports," Taylor said.
"David has transformed an industry, not just the NBA," Silver said. "I think David is the one who turned sports leagues into brands . . . There are all kinds of business metrics that we look at that would define David as one of the great business leaders of all time."
Stern, the longest-tenured of the four commissioners in NBA history, said he decided about six months ago to leave on his 30th anniversary. He joked it's "one year for the 30 teams in the NBA."
The NBA has had some ugly times under his watch, including the brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004 and the gambling scandal involving referee Tim Donaghy. There also have been two lockouts that shortened the regular season in 1998-99 and last season. The NBA rebounded quickly from last year's work stoppage.
"I've decided that things are in great shape," Stern said. "There is an organization in place that will ultimately be led by Adam that is totally prepared to take it to the next level. I didn't feel comfortable leaving prior to the collective-bargaining agreement."
Silver has been Stern's deputy since 2006 and has been in the NBA for 20 years.
"The opportunities for this league are truly limitless," Silver said. "I'm honored, thrilled and will do my absolute best to grow this league, and this industry, and try to do it the same way David has done."