When the calendar turns to February, Adam Silver will have officially been NBA Commissioner for five years. It’s been a dramatic first half-decade for the 56-year-old lawyer, but he has handled the ups and downs of the league incredibly well and might be on his way to being the best commissioner in the history of professional sports.
The next five years will be interesting as the league tries remove one-and-done college drafts and bring high-school players back into the fold. There will also be continuing discussions around the use of marijuana, a reduction in the number of NBA games, a WNBA collective bargaining agreement negotiation and more. But before Silver gets back to business, we wanted to take a moment to highlight his top five moments in the past five years as Commissioner.
Hire more women
Since 1969, when Denise Long was drafted by the Golden State Warriors, women have been banging on the door of the NBA. Long never played in a game, but she was present with the team all season. There have been occasional others, such as Lusia Harris in 1977 (who was drafted by New Orleans Jazz), Ann Meyers (who tried out for the Indiana Pacers), Cheryl Miller (who had the talent but had a professional career cut short by injuries), and more recently Brittney Griner. And while no women have played in the NBA, more are being recognised for their supreme talents, and several have earned positions in the league.
These days, Becky Hammond is an assistant coach on the San Antonio Spurs, Kristi Tolliver is a trainer with the Washington Wizards, and Sue Bird is working with the Denver Nuggets. Last year, Adam Silver issued a memo to all NBA teams, urging them to begin conversations about workplace policies following the misconduct reports within the Dallas Mavericks. In a list of seven points to help improve, the first was to “increase the number of women in the workplace, including in leadership and supervisory positions.”
Removing Donald Sterling
Within weeks of his first day on the job, Silver was faced with one of the toughest challenges he might ever have. Long-time LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling had influence around the league, but this all disappeared when a recording that his girlfriend made was released on TMZ. In it, Sterling could be heard making racist remarks and Silver moved swiftly. Within four days, the owner was slapped with $2.5 million fine, was banned from the league for life, and within a month he was forced to sell the team to Steve Ballmer.
Few professional sports leagues have embraced the changing environment around them like the NBA. A perfect example of this is the decision to expand into esports gaming.
In 2017, Silver introduced the joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive that would see 17 of the NBA’s 30 teams develop a tournament. To begin, anyone could enter. But the best players were invited to a combine, then a draft was completed and a league took place. Knicks Gaming won the inaugural season and the league has now expanded to 21 teams.
He has called it the NBA’s fourth league, and in London he said: “I think right now, as we grow within the NBA just by, again, adding another four teams to 21, going into only our second season now, I want to make sure that we’re operating in an efficient way, that we’re learning everything we need to know about how to do this successfully. But we know there’s enormous interest in Europe, Asia, all around the world in the NBA 2K game. Stay tuned. That would be our dream, to have teams all around the world.”
Responding to FiveThirtyEight
In 2015, superstats website FiveThirtyEight surveyed its readers, who came up with 7,000 responses to improve the NBA Draft. Some were silly, others serious, but the website collated them and addressed a letter to the Commissioner, asking him what he thought. They never really expected a response, but they got one.
It discussed the different suggestions, even one about Silver riding a bear on to the stage, and gave time and thought into his answer. He doesn’t have to do these things, and probably doesn’t for everyone, but his openness to be on podcasts, be interviewed and respond to things like this make him one of the coolest executives in sports history.
Few leagues embracing LGBT communities and athletes the way the NBA has. There are still only a handful of NBA players who have come out as gay. John Amaechi got the ball rolling when he came out four years after playing in the NBA, as part of his book Man In The Middle. In 2013, Jason Collins became the first active player to come out and he received a contract from the Brooklyn Nets shortly after, becoming the first openly gay person to play in an NBA game. However, there are also several gay WNBA players, and in recent years, the organisation has worked hard to celebrate this, including entering floats as part of New York City’s Pride parade.
In 2016, Silver walked alongside the float but Collins convinced him to get on board, and in 2017 he spent the whole event waving flags and joining in the ceremony. Few league executives in other sports have supported LGBT people in the way the NBA has, and Silver has made it known that the league accepts everyone.
Featured Photo – Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle / Ezra Shaw / Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration