New York City kid, Knicks fan, Duke graduate, David Stern’s prodigy, NBA DC and COO, whatever you want to call him, Adam Silver has been as polarizing a Commissioner as the sporting world has ever seen.
It is a misconception, however, to think that Silver’s impact on the NBA began when he was named Commissioner in 2014. With previous law experience working in New York, Silver was instrumental in the negotiation of the previous three NBA collective bargaining agreements. An important member of the partnership with Turner Sports Broadcasting and the formulation of NBA China, Adam Silver had tremendous experience before taking on the most important role in world basketball.
Just two months into his tenure though, Silver had to navigate through some terrible PR for the league. Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling was all over the news after a racist private recording was made public. Simply, Sterling made it obvious that he did not want people of color coming to Clipper games. Silver was ready for his first real public act as commissioner, and he didn’t hesitate.
Just four days after the recording was released, Silver unequivocally rebuked not only Donald Sterling’s comments, but the man himself, banning him for life from the NBA and fining him the maximum possible amount the league allowed, $2.5 million. Alongside the ban and fine, Sterling was forced to sell the team in one of the strongest and most severe actions imposed by a Commissioner in American sports history.
Silver’s ability to take on controversial issues has only improved. In his first public statement after the Donald Sterling fiasco, Silver expressed in a New York Times Op-Ed piece his desire to “take a different approach” to sports betting and gambling. He continued, saying “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.” In 2018, the NBA named MGM as their exclusive betting partner.
Now unafraid to inject himself into politicized issues, Silver took on North Carolina legislation and moved the All-Star Game out of Charlotte due to the controversial NCHB2 Bill. Otherwise known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, the Bill enforced gender-segregated bathrooms. Referred to by many as the most anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the country, Silver took a stand, making the 2017 NBA All-Star Game the first American sporting event to be moved for political reasons since 1990.
Whether you agree with his social decisions or not, the financial trajectory of the league under Silver has been unequivocally successful. Player salaries have skyrocketed. Team valuations have gone from $12 Billion to $60 Billion, a 500% increase. The league attendance record has been surpassed four years in a row.
Adam Silver’s responsibility as Commissioner is not just NBA focused. Silver presides over “a global sports and media business built around four professional sports leagues.”A key figure in the development of the WNBA and NBA Gatorade “G” League (formerly D League), Silver’s focus today is on that “fourth league”, the 2K League.
Silver’s tenure is far from over. Given an extension until 2024, he will negotiate at least one more CBA, with the current agreement expiring after the 2023-2024 season.
Adam Silver has had as successful a first five years as anyone in a high-ranking sports position, and if trends continue, Silver will lead the NBA into many more prosperous years to come.