Commissioner Adam Silver sat down with Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com during this year’s MIT Sloan Conference to discuss the league and its surrounding environment. Hoops Rumors was among the media in attendance at the event.
The NBA is more popular now than ever before. Commissioner Adam Silver talked about a time when businessman looking to buy a franchise would tell him and former commissioner David Stern that they really wanted an NFL team, but none were available, so they’d settle for an NBA franchise. Now, nearly every prospective buyer has a singular focus on owning an NBA team.
There are clear differences between the owners of the different North American leagues. NBA owners are typically more open to innovation than those in the NFL. Silver wouldn’t talk at length about the other sports leagues, but he did admit that there may be something about the sport of basketball that attracts a “certain type of owner.” The NBA is more receptive to analytics than the typical NFL franchise. Silver said it’s because the league has “two generations of owners.” He calls one group the Leslie Alexander-types: those who used analytics outside of sports world to create their wealth. The other group consists of the Mark Cuban-types: those who grew up understanding the value of analytics and innovation.
The league’s adoption of social media has created relevance among the NBA owners, Silver said. Basketball is a team sport, but its players’ individualities popularize the league. “We have lots of content for fans [that the players provide],” Silver said.
Sending content directly to consumers carries the risk of presenting the wrong message. The league helps players manage their social media accounts at the rookie camps. Silver said the league is “a little bit more than laissez-faire,” adding that he “encourages [the players] to be authentic.”
That’s not to say the league doesn’t step in if a player missuses social media. ‘There are certain lines you can’t cross,” Silver said. “It’s not like you get sent to the principal’s office…but, we have a conversation with the player.” He added that “for the most part, we tell [the players] to have fun.”
Before the social media age, players who were in bigger markets had advantages when it came to marketing. Players can now reach a global audience regardless of where they play. “It’s an equalizer among markets,” Silver said. He noted that Kevin Durant had more money in endorsement deals than any player on the Warriors last season. According to Silver, marketing executives no longer urge players to choose the bigger city, instead, they tell the players that winning drives sales and popularity.
That’s a topic that played a role in recent CBA negotiations. There were discussions about axing the league’s maximum salary rule, something that would put pressure on the star players to take less because it would be hard to put together a winning team while using upwards of 70-80% of your cap on one star player. Imagine LeBron James as a free agent in a real free market; he theoretically could command nearly 100% of the cap.
Having the max contract keeps a harmonious relationship between NBA clubs and their star players. For example, the highest paid player on the Lakers isn’t going to gripe to ownership that the highest paid player on the Clippers is making more than him. With restrictions in place, teams are able to give a player the maximum and it won’t create hostility in the relationship.
The league wants to incentivise players to stay with their incumbent teams in free agency. The new CBA will implement the Designated Veteran contracts that will allow teams to pay their own players more than rival teams can. Durant’s decision to spurn Oklahoma City certainly played a role in the new role, but Silver was quick to say that Durant “didn’t do anything wrong.”
He’s right, but that doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t make changes. In fact, Silver thinks the league should be more innovative in regards to changing the rules. “Historically, we’ve been too conservative with making changes,” Silver said.
Change is hard for many people, including those in the basketball world. Many people opposed the Hack-A-Shaq rule that disincentivizes teams from fouling in the last two minutes of a game. Silver said that high school coaches would write him letters, pleading for him not to make the change for fear that high schoolers would no longer practice foul shots. Silvers responded the same way he does when players show concern: “Don’t take any of this for granted…the world is changing around us.”
Changes in the All-Star game are coming. Silver said Chris Paul reached out to him to try to find a solution that makes the game more competitive and the league intends to implement the changes by next season.
Something we won’t see: the league vetoing a trade. Silver was asked if he ever considers stepping in when one team is giving up too much or not enough in a transaction and he was firm in his response. “The answer is the league cannot” Silver said, while adding that all league trades get approved in terms of financials and players passing physicals. Silver was adamant that the league doesn’t “weigh in from a quantitive standpoint.”
Stay tuned to Hoops Rumors for more coverage from the MIT Sloan Conference.