Jermaine Every: Adam Silver is the best commissioner in pro sports
NBA commissioner Adam Silver gets it. There’s no other way to put it. People can come up with other fancy ten dollar words and phrases to describe what he’s done and continues to do if they feel so led. But simply stated “gets it” does the job as efficient as Silver himself.
I was enjoying the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities on television this past weekend with my family. Throughout that time, there is a core group of guys I consider hardcore basketball fans that I will keep in contact with to discuss the goings on. One of them is Gow Media’s own Raheel Ramzanali.
Raheel and I go back to the early days of 1560 when he worked there and I interned. We both love basketball and he can actually play pretty well, so don’t let him hustle you if you ever get the chance to play him. One of the things that came up was the fact that Silver has his hand on the pulse of how to keep the league fresh and interesting to its ever-changing audience, while still honoring the game’s history and traditions.
In one of his many public addresses this past weekend, Silver hinted at a revamped playoff format. His idea is to keep the top eight teams from each conference that qualify, but re-seed them one through sixteen, regardless of conference, so we get the best two teams to meet in the Finals every year. Brilliant idea! While he’s honoring the tradition of the top eight teams from each conference, he’s also shuffling the deck to ensure we get better matchups in the playoffs. The only drawback would be travel. Silver mentioned potential matchups of teams in the first couple rounds that could present travel nightmares. Imagine if the Golden State Warriors played the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, which carries a 2-2-1-1-1 seven-game format? He acknowledged the potential travel issue, but said the league is committed at working on a solution.
Another progressive sign of Silver’s influence is the way the league embraces culture. The Rising Stars Challenge was revamped in 2015 to its current Team USA versus Team World to honor the diversity of the up and coming players. No longer does it use the tired old East versus West format. Also gone is the legends “coaching” opposing teams of their choosing, which kept some of the spotlight on them, and not the young talent. Silver also understands what’s appealing to the younger audience as evidenced by the musical performances over All-Star Weekend. Some had a political overtone; others were populated by rap music and twerking dancers (my personal favorite). Either way, it showed the commissioner knows he has to appeal to a broader spectrum.
Silver has also been at the forefront of the gambling issue by seeking legalization of sports gambling. He took office as commissioner on February 1, 2014. On November 13 of that same year, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about legalizing sports betting. This is a clear 180 degree flip from what major pro sports in this country have stood for. The NBA is also reportedly seeking a one percent fee on every legal bet on its games should sports betting become legal. Two of Silver’s quotes that have stuck out to me on this subject that gives insight to his mindset are “It’s good for business, I don’t want to hide from that” and “I’m not pro sports gambling. I’m just a realist.” Major League Baseball considers gambling so taboo that it has banned one of its greatest players, Pete Rose, due to gambling, and still hasn’t placed him in its Hall of Fame. The National Football League endorses fantasy football, yet won’t fully endorse sports betting. Silver on the other hand knows what kind of revenue stream it can be and has looked into making it safe for those who wish to place bets, as well as protecting the integrity of the game.
While he may look like Judge Doom, his actions are more consistent with a man of the people. He hasn’t tried to disparage his predecessor, or anything he had done. Yet he’s embraced change with a progressive outlook to the future, all the while continuing to honor the game’s past. This was particularly evident in one of the performances over the weekend in which there were several current stars speaking on the country’s current social climate. Towards the end of the song, Grant Hill came out with Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Whether it’s gambling, reformatting stale traditions, making sure the halftime entertainment is thicker than a snicker dancing to rap music, or improving league revenue, Silver is steadily proving himself to be the best commissioner in all of pro sports.