Adam Silver, the bald man who is also commissioner of the NBA, gave a State of the Game press conference today in New York. He spoke about the collective bargaining agreement, reseeding the playoffs after each round, and competitive balance, among other things.
ADAM SILVER: Two personal notes I want to open up with. One is we lost this morning Drew Sharp, longtime beat writer for the Pistons with the Detroit Free Press, great friend of many people in this room and people at the league. So from the NBA family, our condolences go out to Drew’s family. And also to my friend Jeff Zillgitt, who for the media assembled here today is almost always with you. He’s had a course of bad luck and is recovering from recent surgery. To my friend Jeff, if you’re watching, hello from all your friends at the league, and we look forward to having you back as soon as possible.
And now for the business at hand. We just finished two days of meetings with our Board of Governors, a series of committee meetings yesterday and a general session with all of our owners and another general session today. Both the meetings were extremely productive. We have very engaged owners. I’ve said it before here, but I think I’m very fortunate to have such a diverse and deep set of owners who bring expertise in media, international affairs, arena operations, of course basketball operations. They share that information with other owners and team personnel along with league staff. It’s been a great exchange, and so from that standpoint, the meetings were very successful.
The topics that were covered, and again, I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Labor relations. A report was given by our general counsel Rick Buchanan along with Dan Rube on the progress of our collective bargaining negotiations. We heard about basketball operations from Byron Spruell, our new president of league operations. Kiki VanDeWeghe is here as well, runs basketball operations for the league. Our deputy commissioner, Mark Tatum, spoke about international — I promised I wasn’t going to do this list and now I’m doing this list. It was a lot of presentations at the meeting. I’m now officially leaving people out, but it was all very interesting. We had a lot of back and forth with the owners on those topics, and as I said, I think one of the best things that we’re seeing in this league is an exchange of information among owners and team personnel. So from that standpoint, they were successful meetings.
Having said that, I think it’s best just to get to all of your questions. Thank you all for being here on a rainy day, and fire away.
Q. Adam, there have been a lot of reports about progress in the collective bargaining agreement talks. What can you tell us on that? Some people might have expected perhaps an agreement in principle even as soon as today. Anything that you can shed some light on in terms of those negotiations?
ADAM SILVER: Sure. The reports are largely accurate. We’ve made tremendous progress. I’m pleased to report, as I’ve said earlier, that I think the process here that we’ve engaged in with the Players Association has been different, frankly, from past rounds of negotiations.
I think there’s tremendous respect from both sides, very engaged Labor Relations Committee from the NBA standpoint, and the same with the Executive Committee from the Players Association. The president of the Players Association, Chris Paul, together with Michele Roberts, the executive director, have led their negotiating team, and we’ve systematically gone through all aspects of the CBA. We’ve had subcommittees that have met extensively over the last several months, and our most recent meeting on Wednesday I thought continued that same spirit of cooperation and was very productive.
We are not done-done, as we say, as bargainers in terms of ultimately having a completed collective bargaining agreement. But we’re on our way toward getting an extension done of this collective bargaining agreement, and I’m very pleased to report that. Hopefully we will be back to all of you in the not-too-distant future to say that negotiations have been completed, but we’re not quite there yet. But I continue to be optimistic.
Q. Just to follow up, this will be the first CBA with your name on it as commissioner and Michele Roberts as executive director of the union. Has that played a role in this at all? People have speculated that, well, somebody is going to want to win to make their bones or to get the better of the struggle. Can you talk about that dynamic?
ADAM SILVER: Yeah. Again, I’ve been at the league for a long time, and so I’ve been at the negotiating table for several cycles of collective bargaining under David Stern. But you’re right, it’s a little bit different now being the commissioner, and Michele is new in her job.
I would say what’s different is from Day One, we both tried to establish a tonality, a process in which there would be transparency and in which there would be respect from both sides. Michele’s word is we both agreed to be “adults” in this process, and again, the players have been terrific in coming to these meetings, a trusted environment where people felt they could share their point of view in an honest and direct way. We’ve continued the tradition started multiple cycles in the past of sharing complete financial information with the union.
There hasn’t been agreement on everything. I think there’s been a healthy back and forth, but I think it’s begun from a basis of trust. I credit Michele Roberts enormously with coming in with that perspective, with being very professional about how she and her colleagues and the players went about this negotiation.
Relationships are critically important. I’ve learned that in this job — relationships with my counterparts at the union, relationships with players and relationships with owners. So from that standpoint there has been a little bit different feel in the room. Maybe it’s just a product of changed times as well.
Also let me just single out one owner in particular, Michael Jordan. I think having Michael Jordan as part of our negotiating committee, I think the unique perspective he brings to the bargaining table because of his playing career, having been, of course, a superstar player. Now for players to see him in that position, it doesn’t mean that if Michael says it, it necessarily means that they accept that as the position they should take. But I think that’s really added a special element unique to this league, to have a superstar player like that owning a team now and being part of these discussions.
I think that added an enormous amount to the atmosphere in the room, and same goes for these players. I think that the Players Association — the players coming together and choosing to have an All-Star player like Chris Paul as president of the union, again, LeBron [James] has been directly involved in these negotiations, Carmelo Anthony, James Jones has played a very active role, Kyle Korver was at a meeting recently this week.
Again, this is my 25th year in the NBA, and one of the changes I’ve seen over the years is that the players have become much more sophisticated about the business of the league. I credit their union with doing a terrific job informing them of the issues. I think they’ve become businessmen in their own right. Obviously the value of their contracts and endorsements have gone up considerably, but I think all of that has led to more, sort of as a business negotiation.
I’ll say that when you have someone like Michael Jordan now on the owners’ side of the table, we all remember the old slogan from when Michael was a player of “Be like Mike.” I think there’s the sense now for the players that that’s yet another area where they want to be like Mike. Look what he’s done, taking sort of his success on the floor and translated that into being an incredibly successful businessman. If you look what many of the players I mentioned earlier have been able to do off the floor in their own careers, I think this is yet another area.
By the way, it’s very healthy for the league to have that virtuous cycle of from player potentially to management, whether that comes as a coach or a GM or working in the front office or being a business partner in the NBA, and then continuing that cycle to owner. I think that allows players to sort of see another side of the business, to put themselves in the owners’ shoes in terms of what their desires are in the business, whether that’s a combination of the ability to run a successful business and to win, and of course with Michael Jordan in the room, he clearly can put himself in a player’s shoes, but also when we’re meeting privately, he can help represent the players’ perspective to the owners.
I think it’s very, very healthy in terms of the business, and I also credit a lot of our success most recently of the league to that true sense of partnership between the players and the owners.
Q. Adam, there had been some concern over the summer, which you addressed in July after the Board of Governors meeting, about the cap spike and its impact on competitive balance. Do you anticipate or can you say whether the CBA, as you guys are discussing it now, is going to have some new measures in there to try to preserve the competitive balance that you guys have talked about now and in the past and specifically maybe to prevent another cap spike?
ADAM SILVER: I won’t speak specifically to it because it’s an ongoing negotiation. My view remains the same as it was this summer in terms of desire to have a competitively balanced league. Again, it’s our responsibility at the league to try to create a system that creates a distribution of talent around the league. Just to clarify, it doesn’t mean that in any way Kevin Durant did something wrong by going to the Warriors. That was his right as a free agent to make that choice, just as it was the Warriors’ right to recruit him as a free agent.
But I have a different perspective than an individual team that’s trying to do everything it can to win championships. My perspective is to build competitive balance among 30 teams in this league. I also recognize, and this is something we talk about in closed doors during collective bargaining, that you can only legislate competitive balance to a certain extent, especially in this sport, when an individual player can have such an enormous impact on the fortunes of the team. This is a unique team sport in that you need that special team dynamic to win, yet at the same time individual players are so critically important.
We’re always trying to strike that right balance between a player’s right when he becomes a free agent to have that ability to make those individual decisions against sort of the league interest and balance. So those are all issues we continue to discuss as part of collective bargaining.
Q. Adam, two things: Number one, is it fair to say that the influx of the new TV money has significantly made this collective bargaining agreement easier than previous ones? And also, has there been any discussion about enhancing, changing in any significant way, the current revenue-sharing structure between owners?
ADAM SILVER: Well, the answer to your first question is yes, I think the fortunes of the league, the fact that there is more money to distribute among our players and teams, has created an atmosphere that makes it more conducive to continue a deal that looks a lot like the current deal. I think there is a sense across the table that we have a system that we both fought hard for in the last round of collective bargaining that for the most part is working pretty well.
I think that both sides would like to see some changes, maybe certain things that I think realistically each side realizes that if we want to get an extension done as opposed to all-out bargaining, it’s not realistic to make substantial changes to the deal. At the same time, there are certain things I would categorize as tweaks that we’re making.
The second part of your question was?
Q. Revenue sharing.
ADAM SILVER: And revenue sharing, as part of our current system, we agreed, the owners, that at the end of this year, we would revisit revenue sharing and take a fresh look at how the current system is operating. My expectation is we will do that, but that speaking now from an owner’s standpoint, I think that system is largely working as well, that we’ve built in the right amount of revenue turnover, but keeping appropriate incentives for teams to be generating as much revenue as they can.
Q. Adam, you’ve talked numerous times how proud you are of the NBA historically kind of being at the forefront of dealing with social issues and how the players have reacted. What would you like to see from your players next week with the national anthem when the season starts, and do you know if the players are organizing anything?
ADAM SILVER: I don’t know if the players are organizing anything. All I can say is what we’ve seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem. It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do. I think that what we have had — I think very constructive discussions directly with our players and their Players Association about meaningful action that we can take collectively in our communities to help build trust, whether it’s between police officers and members of the community, looking for constructive ways to address racial injustice, economic injustice. I’m very proud of the relationship we’ve built with the union and with the players on these issues.
My expectation is that we’ll see into the regular season more of what we’ve seen in the preseason, which is, again, a sense of let’s deal directly with these important issues.
Let me add to that. I’ve thought a lot about this, and Michele Roberts and I have talked a lot about these issues, that there may be no organization in our society better positioned than the NBA and its players to try to have an impact on these difficult issues plaguing many of our cities. So aside from discussions around the anthem, it’s my expectation that as we move beyond the collective bargaining process, we and the players together will continue to address these issues and look for opportunities where we really can make a difference.
Before there were issues around the anthem, I happened to be at the ESPYs this year out in Los Angeles when our four players stood up and made their point about the need for us to come together and work in our communities. We’ve tried to build on that. We’ve tried to build on their challenge, in essence, to everyone who was there that night to see what impact we can have, what impact they can have as individual athletes and how we can contribute to that as the league together with our teams.
Again, I think we are making progress. Kathy Behrens is here, who leads our social responsibility efforts. She’s been talking directly to players and her counterparts at the Players Association about a series of actions that we’re hopeful that we can take collectively as we move into this season.
Q. What did you think of how the WNBA playoffs played out with taking teams with the best records regardless of conference and then reseeding them after each round? Is any of that kind of thing still under discussion for the NBA?
ADAM SILVER: I thought the WNBA playoffs were terrific this year. I thought the basketball was fantastic. I thought the competition was great as well. We did try something new, to your point, in the WNBA in allowing teams from within conferences to reseed so that the best teams could meet in The Finals.
You know, one of the reasons we did it is so that we could see how it would operate and maybe potentially how it could impact how things work in the NBA. I will say that we considered doing something similar in the NBA a year ago. We made presentations to our owners and at our Competition Committee, and we ultimately concluded that with the 30-team league and the geographic distribution of our teams that it would not be better than our current system. There’s no question there would be certain advantages to doing it. But, as you all know, we’ve spent a lot more time in the last few years focused on the impact of travel, the impact of sleep deprivation on our players, and so it’s this constant balance of this notion of flying, crisscrossing the country in the first round, sort of the Boston-L.A., Boston-Portland first-round series. We’ve all sort of concluded that we’re better off having intraconference competition in our playoffs and then meeting in The Finals.
It’s one of these things that we’ll continue to look at. Unlikely to change in the short term, but as I said, we pay a lot of attention to how it’s worked in the WNBA, and I think in a smaller league and also with shorter series, less travel, it was very successful.
Q. As far as competitive balance in the league, obviously the predictions both inside and outside the league are that we’re going to have the same Finals again. That’s the heavy expectation. But it seems maybe like 3 through 8 in each conference seem pretty balanced. Are you satisfied with where things are, or do you worry about June more than October through April? How do you feel about where the NBA is right now in that regard?
ADAM SILVER: I’m very satisfied where things are right now. Even as I said over the summer, I don’t want to overreact to the Warriors’ situation, that you have individual circumstances of a player making the decision to join other great players. I think that as a league, we have to look at trends over longer periods of time. I think the competition, frankly, has been great.
I saw that [NBA.com] GM poll in terms of their predictions. I think there’s a fair amount of gamesmanship in some of those selections. When I talk to GMs individually, they’re not making quite the same predictions. So we’ll see.
I’m really excited going into the season. Obviously, the beginning of the season is right around the corner. I’ll be giving out the rings Tuesday night in Cleveland, and there are a lot of charged-up players in this league. There are a lot of teams, young teams in the development cycle, where I think they would even say realistically they’re unlikely to win the championship this season, but they’re on the road to winning a championship. I think there’s a very different sense around the league than where we were a few years ago where most of the questions were about teams who seemingly didn’t want to win. We’re not hearing that anymore.
I think in essence, as we said then, the marketplace would speak, and I think teams are realizing that they need a building strategy and that chemistry is critically important in this league, that coaching is critically important. You can’t create championship teams overnight.
So as I said, we’re a very different league than the NFL, for example, where — and I credit the NFL. It’s a combination of the game and the system they’ve created that has led to enormous parity in their league.
I think that in the NBA, we’ve looked at a lot of different systems, but I think given the impact that an individual player can have, it’s much more difficult to create that NFL-style parity. What we’ve always talked about in our league is equality of opportunity. And that is, does that opportunity come to teams, for example, regardless of market size, and I think that’s what we’ve tried to establish with our cap system and the other system elements that we spend a lot of time talking about. So a San Antonio Spurs can create a great franchise and go about it in the same way that a team in a large market would.
We’re far from the perfect system. It’s something, as we’ve gone through this collective bargaining cycle, we continue to talk about with the players. The players are divided a little bit as well because on one hand, they want that ability to be a free agent and to go wherever it is that they choose to play. On the other hand, they recognize that we’re going to have a better league if talent is distributed in a more equal fashion.
I’m always looking to improve things, but I love the style of play we’re seeing in the league right now. I think on any given night there’s always great action out there. I’m a big fan of our LEAGUE PASS product. I watch a lot of games on my smartphone and my tablet as well as my television, and there are great stories throughout the league. I’m looking forward to the season.