Editor’s note: What follows is my transcription of Adam Silver’s interview upon his first appearance in Salt Lake City, Utah, in his tenure as commissioner. Silver spoke 2 hours before tipoff of Wednesday’s Jazz/Rockets game.
“Greg [Miller] and I usually aren’t this formal when we say hello to each other. I just want to say how excited I am, and I’ll be answering questions. Just spent the last couple of hours with Greg and his management team. I’ve known Greg for a long time, and of course the Miller family is the 2nd longest tenured ownership group in the league. And the work they’re doing here with the franchise is a first class team in every possible way. There were reports I got today in terms of local community interest, the partnerships that they have with local businesses, the team is looking terrific. Dennis Lindsey is doing a fantastic job.
They asked me why I’m here, I said “I haven’t been to Salt Lake City since I became commissioner, and it’s just a coincidence that Quin Snyder went to Duke and I’m here for their first game. I want to say that for the record. Actually, things really are looking great for this franchise.
It’s a wonderful time for the league. As you all know, we recently concluded two new television extensions with our longtime partners, Disney Company and Time Warner, and all of the teams will get a share of that, and I think it’s especially important for so-called small-markets. While I still use that label because others do, what we’re seeing in the league is that those distinctions are becoming much less important, and it’s because a number of factors. One is the increased amount of national and international revenue that’s divided equally among the teams, with a dollop of revenue sharing added, that enables every team to compete. We have increasingly global market for the NBA. The relative differences in the sizes of each market in the United States become much less relevant when you look at this business on a global basis and you realize that less than 5% of the global population is in the United States, and you see how much our business is growing in Asia and Europe and Latin America. Social media is transforming this business, in that you have followers of every organization regardless of the size of the market in the United States. You have the huge followings on a global basis of particular players and particular teams. And then mobile technology, we’re all going mobile, so when I was traveling in Europe and Asia for the preseason and increasingly when fans have to follow teams in different time zones, they’re doing it on their smartphones and tablets rather than on television, and so it makes it that much more easy to follow their favorite teams. So all those factors are combining to make market size much less important in the United States in terms of a 30-team league.
We’re seeing the results on the floor. I was in San Antonio last night, I had the honor for the first-time as commissioner of giving out the rings to the Sn Antonio Spurs, and I see a lot of similarity, frankly between this organization and the San Antonio Spurs. Clearly, they’ve developed some of their basketball side in San Antonio, but it’s a winning formula. It has to do with a global team, like they have here, it has to do with sound management, it has to do with strong ownership and a clear vision. And it’s why we’re seeing success. Not just in San Antonio, but we’re seeing it in Oklahoma City, we’re seeing it in Indianapolis, and that’s what I want to run. A 30-team league where every team in every market has the opportunity to run a sound financially stable business and compete for championships. That’s what we’re seeing here. I’m happy to answer questions.”
Lottery reform seems to be split along these small-market/large-market lines. Has your thinking on the issue evolved?
“It’s evolved a little bit, and I would say in part because of the robust conservation we had before the Board of Governors last week. As you know, a majority of teams were in favor of lottery form, 17 teams voted in favor of the particular proposal but it requires 3/4 vote, so it didn’t pass, but there was an unanimous agreement in the room that we needed to continue looking at it. It’s a difficult issue, and I’ve been in the league for a long time as we’ve tinkered with it many times over the years. My greatest concern is not that the current system isn’t fair, but that there’s a perception in some markets that you need to be really bad in order to get good. I’m not sure that the data supports that, but it concerns me when general managers and teams feel pressure to be bad, and think that’s the quickest way to becoming good. I think there are no shortcuts to developing championship teams in the league. But the reason why we had that proposal in front of the owners was largely to address that perception. But there was a concern in the room that there may be some unintended consequences from the proposal that was on the table. And we said fine, we’ll take it back to the competition committee and continue looking at it.”
If that is how management of some franchises feel, how great a threat would that be to honest competition?
“I’m not sure how many franchises feel that way. My sense is that franchises do what’s smart and they’re ultimately gonna do what’s in the best interest of their organization, and that is building a winning culture and building a first class operation. My real concern is that it creates doubters in the community, and it was really more the chatter out there, of people saying that by going about it the old-fashioned way that that wasn’t the right way to build a team. It’s something we monitor. There’s genuine rebuilding necessary in this league, and so I’m not against clubs appropriately rebuilding, and that’s what I think his happening now in some franchises. I was more concerned about where it could next be taken to based on some of what I pick up when I travel around the league, and that’s why we’re addressing it. The lottery reform wasn’t a wholesale change anyway, it was still a lottery. The challenge is you still want the draft to stock those teams with the best picks who have the worst records. It’s always finding that right balance.”
You’ve spoken in the past about not having a players’ union to negotiate with on some of these issues, like the age limit. Do you feel that’s changed since the appointment of Michele Roberts, and what’s a timeline on negotiating with them some of those issues?
“I think it has changed significantly with the appointment of Michele Roberts. You know, I’ve said previously, we’re just getting to know each other, we’ve had a few meetings so far, we’ve head several phone conversations and I think a strong union is in the interests in the league. To have a strong partner on the other side of the table, having a partner that creates an informed players association, a union that has strong views about how to build this league with us, is all very positive. There’s no specific timeline yet to sitting down, discussing some of the issues that we had parked at the end of the last collective bargaining cycle, but I know Michele Roberts is working to get up to speed as quickly as possible, she’s in the process of hiring some new executives. I saw there was an announcement today of some new people joining her, so I think we’re still probably some number of weeks away from sitting down and having any sort of formal discussions about those so-called B-list issues.”
Another issue is the rookie year extension deadline that’s coming up, October 31st. Some people feel it’s too late to have it start during the season. Do you share that sentiment, or is it something you’ve looked at yet.
“I haven’t looked at that issue.”
You talk about the global expansion of the NBA. Do you see a time to expand overseas or expand in general?
“No imminent plans for expansion now, and so it’s not something I’m focused on. I can imagine, I definitely can imagine a time when we would seriously consider expanding overseas, especially to Europe. I don’t think it’s realistic, unless there’s some new aircraft on the horizon that I’m not familiar with, that we’ll expand to Asia, having been someone who makes that trip fairly often myself. I think in Europe it’s doable. You think about the travel time from East Coast to West Coast and the flight times from East Coast to Europe, I think it’s doable. With the NFL, when the NFL is very focused the possibility of putting a franchise in London, so it’s something we’re continuing to look at, but again, it’s not imminent. It requires arena infrastructure in Europe that’s not quite there yet, in some cities. If we were to do it, we’d probably approach it a little bit differently than the NFL, I think when we play as often as we do, we’d probably need to do it with a division as opposed to a 1-off team in Europe.”
What was the initial report back on the shortened with the 11-minute quarters? Are there plans for toying with that again in the future?
“The initial report back was that, ‘You’re not planning on changing the number of minutes in the game this year, are you?’ We said, no, not at all, that was not under consideration. We did it more to focus everyone in the league on the issue of pace and length of game. There’s a lot of intention in baseball about length of game, not so much so in our game, but it’s something we are focused on. We have a 2.5 hour television window, we think that’s the right length. The game tends to creep longer sometimes. Part of it is our fault because of the commercial time outs we add, some of it might be the coaches fault because of some of the timeouts they call. So I think the 44-minute game served its purpose, which was focusing the community’s intention on length of game and pace. It’s something we’re going to continue to look at. It’s highly unlikely we’re going to change the number of minutes in a game, but we will be looking at other commercial formats and we will be looking at other timeout formats.”
Is there a position for the league on how you may or may not want to phase in the increase in BRI and how that affects the salary cap? What kind of timetable should teams expect to know how the future salary cap will change?
“Good question. So the new money doesn’t come in until the 2016-17 season. But having said that, we’d like to know as early as possible that we are going to make a change, so teams can plan accordingly. It’s something that does require the agreement of the union in order to create a so-called smoothing affect of the new money. And so I have discussed it with Michele Roberts, and while we’re not at the point of looking for an agreement with a specific proposal, we have presented a concept to them in terms of how smoothing would work. It’s the league’s position that it would lead to a more equitable distribution of the money if we smooth in, rather than having one enormous windfall for the particular class of free agents that year. Just to be clear, the players in totality will still get 51% of the total BRI in 2016-17, it’s just a question of how it’s distributed among the players and where the level of the cap is set.”
Can you describe that proposal a little?
“The proposal was again, without being specific, that if you take the formula now for how the cap is determined and the tax level, based on a formula that we’ve negotiated with the union, we’d artificially move the cap and tax down to a lower number, and then the shortfall between what was paid through the cap system. And then the 51% of the BRI that we owe the players would be paid in a lump sum over to the union for them to distribute more equitably among all of the members.”
“Are you making other stops this week?”
“So my last stop this week is tomorrow night, I’m going to the Clippers game for Steve Ballmer’s first game, then heading home Friday.”
“What have you enjoyed most about your job so far?”
“Most enjoyable part of my job is coming to games and traveling around the league. It’s as I said, my first trip to Salt Lake City since I was commissioner. It’s fun getting together with the team organizations, learning new things from them, getting direct feedback from teams on new ideas we should be implementing into the league office, and just interacting generally with fans. It’s fun sitting in the arena. And markets do differ in terms of how they react to the teams, and the game presentation, and how they choose to entertain their fans, different styles of basketball around the league. That’s been my favorite part of the job. And that aspect of the job I’ve been doing now going into my 23rd year in the league.”