Of all the commissioners among the major professional sports leagues in North America, none commands more respect than Adam Silver of the NBA.
Silver has always been a visionary, seemingly one step ahead of global trends. The owners he works for trust him, the players seem to have faith in his judgment and he always seems to know the right thing to say, whether he’s grieving the loss of former commissioner David Stern and Kobe Bryant or navigating the league’s fans through these uncertain times.
With sports – and life – at a virtual standstill in the world due to coronavirus, Silver took some time out Wednesday to speak to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in a wide-ranging interview illustrating what’s been on his mind since he was compelled to indefinitely suspend play last week.
Aware the world is in need of some type of diversion, Silver intimated the NBA is considering staging some sort of charity competition, just to give us all something to watch other than Netflix and the major news networks.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about are, are there conditions in which a group of players could compete – maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser or just the collective good of the people – where you take a subset of players and, is there a protocol where they can be tested and quarantined and isolated in some way, and they could compete against one another,” Silver said. “Because people are stuck at home, and I think they need a diversion. They need to be entertained.”
He also comforted the fans by saying he remained confident the NBA would eventually be able to resume its regular season schedule, which would likely mean carrying the playoffs deep into the summer months.
“What are the conditions we need for the league to restart? I would say I’m looking at three different things,” Silver said. “One is, when can we restart and operate as we’ve known it with 19,000 fans in buildings? … Option two is, should we consider restarting without fans, and what would that mean? Because, presumably, if we had a group of players, and staff around them, and you could test them and follow some sort of protocol, doctors and health officials may say it’s safe to play.”
You’ll recall the NBA has tried to be open-minded lately, exposing itself to some new gadgets to help enhance the game experience. A great example was during the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago last month when it played around with something called the “Elam Ending” that added layers of competition to what’s usually a slap-happy two hours.
“I’m optimistic by nature, and I want to believe that we’re going to be able to salvage at least some portions of this season,” Silver said. “I would say we have done new and creative things in the past. We experimented with this year’s All-Star Game with a unique ending. We’ve talked about play-in tournaments for going into the playoffs. There may be other things we can do with the format.
“I have heard from a lot of our players. … They’re going stir-crazy, they want to play, they want to compete. Players as you know, I mean, unlike a lot of us in our positions we can just go back to what we were doing, but every player is fighting something that’s unwinnable, and that’s the aging process. So a lost year or lost portion of a season in their careers is very different from other people, so we’re gonna try by every means we can to play basketball again, but I say that the safety and health of our players is first, and our fans, which is why I don’t want to speculate more on that.
“That will be the condition upon which we can play: when public health officials give us the OK.”
One of the most interesting things Silver talked about was the possibility the league is considering the total re-staging of its regular season schedule by moving the start into December (from October) to socially distance itself (to borrow a phrase) from competition from the NFL.
“Possibly,” he said. “Those are things we’re always talking about whether they’re executives at … ESPN or Warner Media, together with our regional sports networks. I will say that the conventional television calendar has changed so much, certainly since I got into this business. Prime time means something very different than it used to now that people in essence carry televisions around with them in their pockets.
“The summer is viewed differently than it was historically from the television standpoint, so regardless of whether we had been going through all this, it’s something that the league office together with our teams has been spending a lot of time on. And we have a lot of our team owners who are technologists, media mavens by background, and so it’s something that committees of owners and league officials have been working on a lot, especially over the last year or so.”
The NBA has a had a number of its players test positive for COVID-19, including a superstar, Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets. In fact, it was the revelation that Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had it that kicked off the series of events the led to the cancellation or postponement of leagues, tournaments and events around the globe.
The league has received criticism from leaders like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claiming a disproportionate amount of its players and officials have received testing while the general population has been forced to go without because of a shortage of kits.
“I’d only say in the case of the NBA, we’ve been following the recommendations of public health officials,” Silver said. “Again, I understand from a public health standpoint why some people have reacted the way they did, but I’d say from an NBA standpoint, we were following directives.”