Special to NYSportsJournalism.com
February 17, 2014: On Feb. 1, 2014, David Stern officially handed over the reins of NBA commissioner to Adam Silver, 30 years to the day when Stern succeeded Larry O'Brien (for whom the NBA championship trophy is named).
During his tenure, Stern saw the league add seven franchises to 30, establish itself as a major attraction for TV broadcasts and marketers and built its brand — and the brand of such players as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — worldwide. He also was present for four lockouts, the relocation of six franchises and the need for stronger drug testing and on- and off-court rules of behavior.
During the NBA's All-Star Weekend, Stern was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
New commissioner Silver joined the NBA as Stern's special assistant in 1992, and since 2006 has been deputy commissioner. Among his priorities is negotiating new TV deals for league. Currently, ESPN and Turner Sports each have two and a half years remaining on their respective eight-year, $7.5 billion deals, which expire after the 2015-16 season. Silver already had named seven team "governors" to advise him.
The NBA has also signed its first national deal under Silver's watch, with Kumho becoming the league's first official tire as well as the official tire of the Development League.
Silver held his first official press conference , which led into a Q&A, in New Orleans during NBA All-Star Weekend.
Commissioner Silver: Let me just begin by saying what it means to me personally to be the commissioner of this league. I think for those of you who have been dealing with me for years, you know that I'm a huge fan of the game. I played as a kid. I'm so passionate every day about how fortunate I am to get to work with so many of what David always referred to members of the NBA family.
Q: Can you talk about the kind of innovations might be coming down the road?
Commissioner Silver: Clearly it's technology. But I would also say sort of a cousin is transparency. I know that's an issue that continues to come up. And whether it be transparency in terms of officiating, part of that transparency comes in replay. But the replay has to be balanced against the flow of the game. That's something we're very focused on. I think transparency in how decisions are made at the league office, transparency in how we deal with our players and the Players Association. So that's one of my guiding principles coming in. It is my obligation and the obligation of the people at the league office through any transition to take a fresh look at everything we do . . . And, by the way, I'm not suggesting sort of a different approach than David Stern ever had. He taught me, and that's how he always looked at things, as well.
Q: Could you address the future of the NBA on broadcast and cable TV and other venues of national distribution?
Commissioner Silver: Frankly, broadcast television is distributed largely through cable and satellite now, certainly in this country. So it's something we continue to look at. I love our existing partners. I think TNT, the quality of their production is the very best in the business. Being in partnership with ESPN and the Disney Company, in essence, it authenticates us, being part of their networks. Being on ESPN, their coverage is terrific as well. On top of that, we have ABC where we broadcast the Finals.
So, to me, broadcast coverage is still meaningful. It's interesting to see that the NFL just went to broadcast television with their new Thursday night package [on CBS]. So it's something we continue to study. But at the same time we're also looking at what's now referred to as over-the-top carriage or broadband carriage. We have experimented with YouTube, with the Development League, with our summer league in Las Vegas. So I'm not concerned from a distribution standpoint that cable isn't far reaching enough. It really to me is the quality of the coverage and the ability to reach homes in America, which we're doing now.
Q: Is there a short list of things you would like to address this year?
Commissioner Silver: I've been with the league for so long that if there were issues that I thought required immediate attention I would like to think in partnership with David we would have addressed those. As I said, my priority right now is the game. The coming together of the larger community of basketball is probably my priority, and that means focusing on the game all the way up from the youth level through college to the pros, so that's on my short list.
Q: You've expressed your desire to increase the age requirement for the league, from 19 to 20. How do you feel that would improve the game on both the NBA and the college level? Can you get cooperation from the Players Association to make it happen?
Commissioner Silver: The 20-year-old minimum age limit was something we had on the table in the last round of collective bargaining. When we compromised on a deal, well into what should have been our season, we agreed to park certain issues and return to them. The age limit was one of them. It is 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.
"It is my obligation and the obligation of the people at the league office through any transition to take a fresh look at everything we do."
Q: Are you getting support for that from around the NBA?
Commissioner Silver: I know from a competitive standpoint that's something as I travel the league I increasingly hear from our coaches, especially, who feel that many of even the top players in the league could use more time to develop even as leaders as part of college programs. I think it would have the same impact on college as well. Ultimately this is a team sport; it's not an individual sport. And we have seen it in international competition, for example, too, where teams of players that have played together for a long time have enormous advantage over teams comprised of super stars or players that come together over short periods of time. From a college standpoint, if those teams could have an opportunity to jell, to come together, if those players had the benefit to play for some of these great college coaches for longer periods of time, it would lead to stronger college basketball and stronger NBA ball as well.
Q: What is the future of sleeved jerseys [made by adidas] andow are you balancing what people do or don't like versus what actually can work for the NBA?
Commissioner Silver: The All-Stars [wore] sleeved jerseys [during the game]. From a fan standpoint, the greatest indicator is how are they selling, and I'll say we're having trouble keeping them in the stores. There's enormous demand for those jerseys. Fans like them. And I happen to like them, too. The idea behind them was that presuming there was a large segment of our fan base, especially older males like myself, who weren't going to be comfortable wearing tank-top jerseys but would feel comfortable wearing a sleeved jersey to work out or play basketball in or whatever else. From that standpoint it's been successful. People are buying them and people like them. From the fashion standpoint, I'm comfortable with it.
Q: What have you heard from the players?
Commissioner Silver: Player feedback has been mixed. I've talked to lots of players who like them. I've heard directly from other players who don't like them. If players believe it has any impact whatsoever on the competition, even if it's just a perception, we need to deal with it. We know that shooting percentages are virtually exactly the same for games in which we have sleeved jerseys and teams in which the guys are wearing conventional jerseys. So I'm pretty comfortable from a competitive standpoint that it's having no impact. What I've said to the players is that, on one hand, people keep encouraging me to try new things, and then when we try something new, people say you've lost your mind, what are you doing? The sleeve jerseys have sleeves on them. So it's something we're trying. We're having some fun with it. Long term, we'll see. But it was never our intention or adidas' intention to change the core uniform that our players wear.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about having sponsors on NBA jerseys. The WNBA already has many teams that do it. How close is that to becoming a reality in the NBA?
Commissioner Silver: We're not close at the moment to including sponsors on jerseys. It's something that we're continuing to look at. I believe it ultimately will happen in the NBA. I think it makes good business sense. Over time.
Q: What major factors would or wouldn't make that happen?
Commissioner Silver: It's something that now as we get closer to the negotiations of our new television deals, our TV partners have a strong point of view on that as well, because there's a pool of advertising money out there. Our goal through putting sponsorships on jerseys is to expand it. But I want to make sure our television partners are comfortable with that, as well. Our experience has been that when companies want to be represented, whether in European soccer on jerseys or in the NBA on courtside signage, it's usually in more of an integrated buy. It's unusual that a sponsor would choose to only be represented on a jersey and not in commercial time and not in courtside signage and not in the arena and in other ways. But it's something we're looking at. Again, I think it makes sense for this 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 life images are critically important to our marketing partners. So we're going to keep studying it.
Q: What are your plans to help further the development of basketball and the NBA in China?
Commissioner Silver: Our plan is to continue working with the Chinese Basketball Association. We have a very strong relationship with them on coaches clinics. We've found that's one of the most efficient ways to grow basketball rather than the clinics directly with the kids, young boys and girls, which we do. Training coaches to train others is probably the best thing that we can do. We're also working with Yao Ming, who is now back in Shanghai. We're working on a pilot program on something called the Yao NBA Academy, a place for boys and girls to play basketball after school to develop not only their basketball skills but their life skills as well.
Q: What can you tell us about the 2015 All-Star Game in New York, which will have pre-game events in Barclays Center and the game itself in Madison Square Garden?
Commissioner Silver: Planning is going well for the New York All-Star Game. I know several members of the [New York] Knicks and [Brooklyn] Nets are in town studying everything that they're doing here in New Orleans. I'm not so sure we'll be doing a program similar to what the NFL did [with the NFL Experience, usually held indoors, being converted outdoors to Super Bowl Boulevard]. One of the ideas we have talked about before, and it's consistent a with a focus on the game, is to expand the All-Star experience to all five boroughs, through programs for kids, a series of clinics throughout the New York area. That's one of the ideas as opposed to one focused Jam Session. Taking the game to the schools and having a program involving coaches and kids leading up to All-Star Weekend. That's one of my primary focuses.
Q: Are there specific ways to expand instant replay while either shortening games or keeping them the way the length that they are, and then what sort of way what rule changes might those be?
Commissioner Silver: It's something that the competition committee will look at. I don't know if there's ways to expand replay and shorten the game at the same time. One of the things we're looking at is a command center similar to what the NHL does right now, where we can centralize the review of replay. In part to ensure a certain consistency, also to save time. Now, as you know, the game stops, the referees walk courtside, turn the monitor around, talk to the truck, order up the replays. And I think that it's our belief if we can get it right, that if have you officials, in essence, located at headquarters, at a central site, that that process can begin immediately, they then can communicate with the officials and that will save time. But I don't have an agenda right now for particular additional instances of replay. It is something, though, that the competition committee will look at.
Q: There seems to be a lot of injuries this year, especially to high-profile players. Has there been any consideration given to lengthening the season to lessen the grind and reduce the number of back-to-back games?
Commissioner Silver: No, not right now. We have had an 82-game season in place for 45 years or so.
Q: What about lengthening the number of weeks of the season, the number of months in the season. Not the schedule itself. To make more time for the 82-game season.
Commissioner Silver: We have talked about a mid-season break. That's been reported recently. That's something I've heard directly from the players on. They're saying that if we, if they, could get a few more days off around All-Star, especially the All-Stars. We are so busy over the course of these few days. It would be helpful to them to get some additional rest. Of course our season is so concentrated right now, that will require us to push back the season a few days. So we'll continue to look at it. It's an awfully long season right now. So I'm not sure we want to go too much longer. But we'll look at it.
"It's unusual that a sponsor would choose to only be represented on a jersey and not in commercial time, courtside signage, the arena and in other ways."
Q: There could be a strong rookie class coming into the league in the next draft, and there has been some talk that teams are "tanking" in order to get a higher draft pick. What is your response to that?
Commissioner Silver: My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose. And there's absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I've been in the league, on purpose.To me, what you're referring to is rebuilding. And I'm not sure it's just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; There's a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor. What we're seeing in the league right now is there's no question that several teams are building toward the future. I think their fans understand that as well. If there was any indication whatsoever that players or coaches somehow were not doing their absolute most to win a game, we would be all over that. But I don't believe for a second that's what's going on. We have the most competitive players in the world, the most competitive coaches, and I think they're doing everything they can to win games.
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