This column appeared in The Japan Times in October 2018.
By Ed Odeven
Global basketball is a far-flung enterprise with 213 national federations and complexities that don’t easily mesh into a single entity. Successful leaders, especially at the top, are vital to create meaningful bonds, improve governance and deal with problems.
And some leaders are irreplaceable. That much is certain.
Patrick Baumann knew how to get things done. With distinction and determination, he guided FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, as its secretary general from 2002 until his death on Oct. 14 in Buenos Aires while attending the Youth Olympics. A heart attack ended Baumann’s life at age 51, and the world of basketball is mourning his passing.
A public memorial service will be held on Nov. 2 at Lausanne Cathedral in his native Switzerland.
But Baumann’s legacy will be on display for decades to come. Anytime a basketball bounces can be a reminder of his love for the game and its endless potential.
A lawyer by trade who possessed an MBA and a master’s degree in sports administration, he brought intellect (famously speaking five languages) and a tireless work ethic to FIBA, and also broadened his influence in sports as an IOC member, president of the GAISF (General Association of International Sports Federations) and World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee member. He served as FIBA’s deputy secretary general before assuming the top post.
Baumann overhauled the administrative machinations at FIBA, demanded that various national and continental associations and pro circuits work together for the greater good and pushed for greater opportunities for the game to be played — anywhere, everywhere. Which is why the 3-on-3 version of the game will make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games. He also helped direct FIBA to mirror soccer’s World Cup qualifying with home-and-away contests. It added more relevance and excitement to recent and ongoing tourney qualifying.
In other words, Baumann, who succeeded Boris Stankovic as secretary general, led the world’s second-most popular team sport to new heights in the 21st century.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who steered the league and the sport to global prominence during his reign (1984-2014), remembered Baumann as a visionary leader with guts.
“Patrick Baumann was devoted to the growth of basketball around the world,” Stern told Hoop Scoop this week. “He saw 3-on-3 as a way to encourage more countries to field teams and he worked tirelessly to make it an Olympic sport — and succeeded. He proudly built on the legacy of Boris Stankovic by introducing business reforms and governance procedures that placed FIBA in the first rank of sports federations.
“He had a keen sense of humor, a self-deprecating wit and a love for our sport that was surpassed only by his love for his family and pride in their achievements. Our sport and the Olympics will miss him greatly but are so much the better for having benefited from his service and dedication.”