Rye, N.Y. is home to two historical landmarks, the Boston Post Road Historic District and Playland Park, and also home to Adam Silver, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Silver went from a town of 16,000 to the helm of hoops, but didn’t always envision working in the sports business as he saw himself “on the outside of that.”
Silver’s unanimous selection as commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014 by the NBA Board of Governors marked his sixth job with the league. He previously worked under his predecessor David Stern for 20 years of his 30-year tenure and said that reaching this plateau was a combination of preparation, opportunity, luck and hard work.
Hard work has always been important for the Commissioner’s success in life and finds that his players also resonate with this as “what differentiates the great ones is how hard” they work.
“I can’t think of a star player in this league that’s not trying to out-work” someone else he said, noting players such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant who embody his philosophy.
Silver was first introduced to the game at a young age when his father took him to see the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden and his passion for the sport grew when he attended Duke University. He turned his love for basketball into a career which has placed him at the forefront of sports. In his role as NBA Commissioner, Silver is faced with challenges from the professional to college levels and challenges facing the future of the NBA. He acknowledges that “things are changing at a much faster pace” than when he first entered the league, but looks to steer the sport in the right direction.
Silver recounted these stories, experiences and his vision of the league in a discussion with Seton Hall University’s Director of the Center for Sport Management Charles Grantham at the college’s annual Sports Business and Media Ethics Symposium on April 2. The Commissioner was the event’s keynote speaker while other panels throughout the day covered amateurism to sports gambling and concluded with a one-on-one conversation between ESPN’s Bob Ley and Stephen A. Smith.
Writing outreach letters to Stern in the 1980s asking for advice was the beginning of Silver’s relationship with the former commissioner, and quite simply, Grantham said the reason why Silver came to Seton Hall was because of relationships.
“I’ve known Adam for 30 years or more. I’ve known him since the middle [to] late 80s so we’ve had a working and professional relationship for some time while I was with the players union for 20 years,” Grantham said.
In his conversation with Silver, the Commissioner spoke about a new endeavor, the Basketball Africa League which is a “collaboration between the NBA and the sport’s global governing body FIBA.” Silver sees this project as an economic opportunity for Africa as “the African leaders are trying to embrace sports industry.”
With 35 players in the NBA born in Africa and about 55 different countries represented in the league, Grantham said that the NBA “is only trying to continue to maintain that worldwide demand” by growing internationally.
“Once we entered the Olympics in ‘92 with the Dream Team, our exposure has expanded worldwide and it brought us players from other parts of the world and [from] other countries,” Grantham said. “So the idea that we’re now shifting to Africa only suggest that there’s a demand there and there’s a lot of potential talent in Africa as well.”
New talent can be found across the world, in the top college basketball programs or even at the high school level. In a report by the Chicago Tribune in February 2019, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association “are continuing to move forward on plans to eliminate the ‘one-and-done’ rule in college basketball.” Silver initially wanted to raise the minimum age to play in the league from 19 to 20 years old when he was first appointed commissioner, but said on Tuesday that the nature of college basketball has changed and it would be better to allow these young people to play at the professional level.
“The easiest solution would be for [the NBA] to have the draft and to have everybody [who meets the age requirements be] eligible,” Grantham said. “You either draft them or you don’t and if they’re not drafted, they should go back to college to play.”
However, from the perspective of a top-tier college basketball program, Grantham sees the appeal of retaining players in its system and the importance of the “one-and-done” for colleges.
“It boils down to the idea that both professional and college sports would like to control that content because these kids represent content which has a value to the broadcasters,” Grantham said. “So if I could keep a young person like Zion [Williamson] in school for four years, what does that do for my content if I’m a college? It makes my content more valuable and they pay more money.”
According to Silver, the league will spend about $8 billion this season in creating a basketball product for consumers. In this rapidly changing sports landscape which Silver noted earlier in his discussion with Grantham, “things are moving at a much faster pace.” One of those things is the growing industry of sports betting as Silver said that it has gone from simple measures such as wins and losses and point spreads to extensive in-game betting as “every bet is like the Super Bowl.”
ESPN has created a Sports Betting Bill Tracker that updates when a new state passes regulations that allow for “full-scale legalized sports betting.” Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are the only states that fall under this category while the remaining 42 are still either in the process of passing new laws on sports betting or on the entire end of the spectrum and categorized as “unlikely.”
Silver said that what changed the most about sports betting was the internet because it disrupted the league. In addition, he said the law is not stopping people from illegal betting either, “just go to Google and type, ‘bet NBA.’”
The league wants an “integrity fee” which is a commission that according to Forbes “seeks 1% of the amount wagered on any events concerning NBA games and says that the fee should be coming out of the revenue received from sports betting operators that would be in the transaction.” Silver said the best way to protect the NBA’s integrity is to bring transparency to the league and to adopt federal regulations that establish a consistent framework across all 50 states.
Silver said Stern transformed the league into an industry and a brand, and the global industry of basketball in 2019 is concerned with its “integrity,” international expansion and a slew of other topics ranging from the WNBA to community outreach programs.
While these topics are at the forefront for Silver and his team to tackle, Grantham said that through the symposium, Seton Hall brings “the student-body the idea of concepts to practice and so that people can actually hear from and experience thought leaders on these two subjects and hear how they impact on professional and college sports.”
Andrea Keppler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @keppler_andrea.