Digest: NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s 2014 State of the Union
NEW ORLEANS — New NBA commissioner Adam Silver conducted his first solo State of the Union address at the NBA’s All Star Weekend on Saturday.
Last year, Silver shared the stage in Houston with David Stern, as the former commissioner embarked on his farewell tour and prepared for the transition of power.
Breaking from tradition, Silver stood at a lectern at the Smoothe King Center rather than sit at a table, and he used the pulpit to deliver an extended personal introduction about his love of the game and his path to the commissioner’s office. From there, he took questions from the assembled media, and while he didn’t break any major news, he did cover a host of topics.
Here’s a digest version of the key quotes and topics from the press conference, which preceded All-Star Saturday night festivities.
One-and-Done / Age Limit
Silver has mentioned in recent interviews that he would like to readdress the current “one-and-done” system that requires players to be at least one year removed from high school before they are draft eligible. The goal: an age limit that would require players to be at least 20 years old.
On Saturday, Silver noted that such an age limit was mentioned in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, and that it remains something he is committed to pursuing because he believes it is in the best interests of the sport at all levels.
“Everywhere I go people dislike [the] so‑called one and done,” he said. “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. And I think we feel we have a responsibility at the NBA as the stewards of the game to ensure that the game is played the right way.”
Silver also argued that a higher age limit would benefit both the NBA and NCAA games by allowing college teams more time together while providing more polished players to the professional teams.
“It is my belief 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. “And 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. I think 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 [an] enormous advantage over teams comprised of superstars or players that come together over short periods of time.”
Fans in Seattle and other markets seeking an NBA franchise might be discouraged to hear that Silver does not see expanding the league past 30 teams — by adding teams internationally or domestically — as a top priority.
“I’m committed to studying … international expansion,” he said. It’s not on the top of my list right now. And I tell you that goes for domestic expansion as well. Largely because I want to ensure that we have a healthy 30‑team league. As powerful as the gains were that we made in the last collective bargaining agreement, we still don’t have a league that has 30 teams that are financially viable. I think that we could do a better job on the competitive front as well. I would like a harder system to distribute players better as opposed to the tax system we have in place right now.”
Sleeved Jerseys / Ads On Jerseys
Adidas unveiled sleeved jerseys for a handful of teams in 2013 and the NBA has used the looks on Christmas Day and will use them during the 2014 All-Star Game.
Silver said that personally he likes the the jerseys and that they are proving to be popular with fans, even while he admitted that the reaction from players has been “mixed.”
“We’re having trouble keeping them in the stores,” he said. “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.”
Some players, including Knicks guard Beno Udrih, have complained about the jerseys affecting their shooting ability. Silver disputed that notion.
“If players believe it has any impact whatsoever on the competition, even if it’s just a perception, we need to deal with it,” he said. “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.”
Although nothing is imminent, Silver also said that advertisements will eventually appear on NBA jerseys (sleeved or otherwise).
“We’re not close at the moment to including sponsors on jerseys,” he said. “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.”
Schedule / Midseason Break
There are currently no major plans to alter the NBA’s 82-game schedule, but Silver did suggest that the league’s All-Star break could potentially be extended into the future, or that the league might institute some sort of midseason break.
“We have talked about a midseason break,” Silver said. “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, I think, who, as we all know, are so busy over the course of these few days, it would be helpful to them to get some additional rest. Our season is so concentrated right now, that will require us to push back the season a few days. … 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.”
The idea of a central command station to handle instant replay video reviews for the referees was raised last. Silver said such a system remains on the docket.
“We’re looking at a command center similar to what the NHL does right now, where we can centralize the review of replays,” Silver said. “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.”
Tanking has been a hot topic this season in advance of a loaded 2014 draft class. Silver made it clear that he doesn’t believe true tanking — losing games intentionally — has been an issue facing the NBA. Instead, he thinks teams with poor records are often going through a natural “rebuilding” process.
“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,” Silver said. “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. And I think what we’re seeing in the league right now is there’s no question that several teams are building toward the future. And 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.”
The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continues its search for an executive director after parting ways with Billy Hunter at the 2013 All-Star Weekend. While the NBPA’s search has reportedly narrowed in on a few finalists, Silver said that business has been able to proceed with interim executive director Ron Klempner representing the players. Still, he sounded ready for a new regime to officially take shape.
“I think [Klempner] is doing a very good job under the circumstances running the union,” Silver said. “Having said that, there are a number of issues, for example, the B‑list issues that we had set aside at the end of collective bargaining that I would love to return to. And the 20‑year‑old age limit is one of them, other workplace issues that they were focused on. So it is a hindrance to a certain extent, and I would love to have a partner across the table from me that had the backing of the entire Players Association and with whom we could do business with.”
As noted above, Silver opened his media session, which lasted for more than 30 minutes, by tracing his personal history with the game.
“I grew up in the New York area,” he recalled. “I think I’m not allowed to say that I was once a Knick fan, but I was. I’m not allowed to be anymore. And I promise I’m a fan of all teams. But when I was a kid, I attended a lot of Knick games with my father, and basketball always had a special meaning to me to when I followed pro basketball, especially through my high school years, then I went on to Duke University.
“And for anyone who is not a huge basketball fan, when they enter Duke University, it’s impossible not to become one when you’re there. I happened to matriculate at the same year that Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, became the coach of Duke University. I never knew him until years later when I was at the NBA, but becoming ‑‑ feeling a part of something bigger than myself, part of that program at Duke University. I would say that at the time I was there I was never a paint‑your‑face kind of kid … [but] when I was there, I experienced some of the best college basketball maybe ever.”
Gratitude to David Stern
Before speaking about himself, Silver also thanked Stern, whom he called a “longtime, friend, mentor and boss,” and congratulated him on his election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, which was announced on Friday.
“It goes without saying that virtually none of us would be here without David,” Silver said. “I want to thank him personally for his friendship, his leadership, his mentorship over all these many years. And maybe most importantly, congratulate him. For those of you who don’t know, he was elected directly into the Hall of Fame, and it was announced yesterday here in New Orleans. He’s not here this weekend. I know he decided after all these years in the NBA to take a couple weeks off before he resumed work, helping me, helping the owners and the rest of the league as commissioner emeritus, traveling the world on the league’s behalf, something he’s been doing for some years of his life. So, David, I hope you’re watching and a personal thank you to you as well.”