New commissioner Adam Silver inherits a much different NBA
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter February 16, 2014 6:02PM
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference before the skills competition at the NBA All Star basketball weekend, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
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Updated: February 16, 2014 6:24PM
NEW ORLEANS — About those sleeved jerseys, Adam Silver ...
‘‘From a fan standpoint, the greatest indicator is how are they selling? And ... we’re having trouble keeping them in the stores,’’ Silver said prior to All-Star Saturday Night at the Smoothie King Center. ‘‘There’s enormous demand for those jerseys. Fans like them. And I happen to like them, too.’’
Judging by the less-than-urgent subject matter tossed Silver’s way in his first press conference as the NBA’s new commissioner — broadcast television coverage, tanking, replay, sleeved jerseys, international expansion and the draft lottery — Silver’s mandate as David Stern’s successor is pretty clear: Just don’t screw it up.
When Stern took over for Larry O’Brien in 1984, the 23-team NBA still was dealing with the perception, if not the reality, that it had a drug problem. Conference finals games still were being shown on tape delay. The Bulls (6,365) were one of eight teams averaging fewer than 10,000 fans a game. League revenues were $118 million. The Celtics — the greatest franchise in the history of the NBA, had just been sold for $17 million.
Silver inherits a 30-team league that had revenues of $4.6 billion last season, that is two years into a 10-year collective bargaining agreement (that he helped broker, and can be re-opened by either side in 2017) with revenue sharing that all but assures the stability of small market franchises. With three national broadcast partners in ABC, TNT and ESPN in addition to its own NBA TV, television coverage is global, ubiquitous and insatiable. Even the NBA draft is a prime-time event. Today’s lottery-bound teams, like the Milwaukee Bucks (13,451 average, lowest in the league) are almost out-drawing the 1983-84 Celtics with Larry Bird (14,801).
Silver has worked for the NBA for 22 years, much of it as Stern’s right-hand man and commissioner-in-waiting. So after the smoothest of transitions, he takes over a sport that has world-wide popularity and is determined to get bigger.
‘‘This is a game that can truly impact the world and change lives. That’s part of our responsibility here,’’ Silver said. ‘‘This is a fabulous league that has its best years ahead of it.’’
There is one arguably problematic issue facing the NBA that Silver intends to address as a major theme of his stewardship: the impact of so many young, talented players who enter the league as products of AAU programs more than high school and college programs.
It’s not a minor issue. ‘‘I’m embarrassed at the level of basketball that’s going on in the NBA today,’’ Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said on the Dan Patrick Show in December. ‘‘I’m embarrassed for the fans having to watch this trash in the NBA today.’’
‘‘My priority right now is the game ... from the youth level through college to the pros,’’ Silver said. ‘‘I know everywhere I go, people dislike so-called ‘one-and-ones’ [players who enter the NBA after one year of college]. It’s important to the NBA and important to basketball generally that there be strong college basketball. It’s important to college basketball that there be strong youth basketball and strong AAU basketball.
‘‘We feel we have a responsibility at the NBA as stewards of the game to ensure that the game is played the right way and those values of the game that people like [Hall of Famer] Bill Bradley talk about [in his book, ‘Values of the Game’] are executed properly and that we at the league office are thinking about those things every day.’’
One proposed solution is a 20-year-old minimum age to play in the NBA that would keep at least American players in college for two years. That’s something Silver bargained for in the most recent CBA negotiations, but gave up as part of the compromise in the deal to end the 2011-12 lockout.
‘‘It’s my belief that if players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people for a longer amount of time before they come into the league, it will lead to a better league,’’ Silver said.
Other issues addressed at Silver’s press conference:
— Silver said he does not believe ‘‘tanking’’ is a problem in the NBA, though his literal definition of it — ‘‘losing games on purpose’‘ — is not really what tanking is all about. Silver seemed to endorse the reality that some teams are better off playing for the lottery than the NBA championship.
‘‘What you’re referring to I think is ‘rebuilding,’ he said. ‘‘There’s no question that several teams are building towards the future. And I think their fans understand that as well.’’
— The NBA is considering a ‘‘mid-season break’’ over All-Star weekend to address the rigors of playing 82 games over 167 days. But he also is concerned with extending the regular season past mid-April. ‘‘I’m not sure we want to go much longer. But we’ll look at it,’’ Silver said.
— Silver said he does not have ‘‘an agenda’’ to expand replay for disputed referees’ calls. ‘‘It’s something the competition committee will look at,’’ Silver said. ‘‘I don’t know if there’s ways to expand replay and shorten the game at the same time.’’
— With digital recording of NBA games muting the impact of commercials, NBA jerseys with sponsors logos — like European soccer teams — appears inevitable. ‘‘I believe it ultimately will happen in the NBA,’’ Silver said. ‘‘I think it makes good business sense. It’s something we’re looking at.
‘‘I think it makes sense for the league as a global league, increasingly, the value of that inventory is growing, as people are TiVoing and taping all forms of entertainment programming. Those live images are critically important to our marketing partners. So we’re going to keep studying it.’’
— As for the Proviso East-style sleeved jerseys ... they were used in Christmas Day games and will be used in the All-Star Game. The NBA is interested enough in them that they have studied the impact on actual play on the court. ‘‘We know that shooting percentages are virtually exactly the same for games in which we have sleeved jerseys and ... conventional jerseys,’’ Silver said.
That’s just part of the innovation Silver hopes to employ as NBA commissioner.
‘‘It’s something we’re trying. We’re having some fun with it,’’ Silver said. ‘‘But it was never our intention or adidas’ intention to change the core uniform that our players wear.’’