Former commissioner of the National Basketball Association David Stern, who oversaw the NBA turning from a struggling U.S. league into a global powerhouse, died in New York Wednesday. He was 77.

The NBA said Stern had been seriously ill since emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage in early December.

Stern joined the NBA’s legal department in the 1960s and took over the league in 1984 when U.S. professional basketball was struggling to attract the same kind of fans base that followed other sports, such as baseball and American football.

Stern focused on marketing professional basketball overseas, including Europe and Asia, allowing fans who were barely aware of the sport to see superstars such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Under Stern, the NBA expanded from the United States into Canada and was the first U.S. major league sport to play a regular season game outside North America, when the Phoenix Suns facing off against the Utah Jazz in Japan in 1990.

The NBA has grown into a $5 billion a year league with games broadcast in more than 200 countries in 40 languages. Stern retired from the NBA in 2014.