Adam Silver Discusses Lack Of Competitiveness Throughout The Playoffs

ADAM SILVER: Thank you. Let me just begin by thanking the members of the media for being here. We have 1,800 credentialed members of the media here this year. Many of you traveled across the country, many of you traveled across the world to be here, and we very much appreciate the coverage.

Let me also congratulate the Cavs and the Warriors on tremendous seasons. Obviously they just blew through the Playoffs, leading to a little bit of rest before The Finals. But I think they all needed it. So fantastic organizations from top to bottom and wonderful representatives of the league. So we’re looking forward to that, to seeing them on the floor tonight.

This is of course a global event. We have global members of the media here. These games will be carried in 215 countries and territories around the world, and we project that over one billion people will either watch some portion of these Finals or engage through social media either with a highlight or directly with the league or players. So roughly one out of seven people on this planet will have a direct connection to these Finals, which is pretty spectacular.

Lastly, let me just say that one of the reasons we are here, all of us who are part of sport and part of this league, is to encourage people to be involved in sport. And I would just like to say that we hope that these Finals inspire kids around the world not just to play basketball but to play sports. We hope that there will be moments that you’ll see on the floor over the next several days and weeks that will inspire young people and inspire old people, too, to want to be physically active, to want to do fantastic things, do great things in the way our players do out on the floor.

So with that, happy to answer any questions.

Q. You yourself mentioned that the two teams blew through the Playoffs. Was there any concern on your part about the lack of competitiveness throughout the Playoffs with the exception of maybe these Finals?

ADAM SILVER: From a league standpoint, you always want to see great competition. It’s what our fans want to see, it’s what we provide in this league. But having said that, this is real life. It’s not scripted, and it happens. So, sure, the fan in me would love to see more competition at times, but on the other hand, I’ve said it before, I think we should also celebrate excellence.

I think that people are also inspired, as I said earlier, by seeing such tremendous play, by seeing teams come together the way they have. I think their play has been inspiring. I think they have done it in the right way, and I also think these things have a way of working themselves out.

Q. Don’t have a litany of collective bargaining questions because you guys have achieved that. What is the next step? There was some issues that were tabled as far as things like lottery reform and the age limit. When do you guys get back to kind of mulling over those issues?

ADAM SILVER: Well, in terms of the lottery, that’s not necessarily an issue of collective bargaining. It’s something of course we confer with the union on, but that’s really more a function of the 30 teams coming together. And that is something, as I’ve said before, we want to turn back to.

We waited on the lottery in part because we wanted to see if there were going to changes in the collective bargaining agreement that would impact how teams traded for players, how free agency worked. And as you know, it stayed roughly the same. So our plan is to turn back to the lottery, and I think that there are some corrections we need to make there.

In terms of age, that is something that we agreed during the negotiations to table. Michele Roberts and I spoke directly about it, Chris Paul as president of the union, and I think we all agreed that we need to make a change. As I’ve said before, our position, at least our formal position, going into bargaining was that we wanted to raise the minimum age from 19 to 20, and of course their formal position was that they wanted to lower the age from 19 to 18.

I think it’s one of those issues that we need to come together and study. This year the projection is that we’re going to have 20 one-and-done players coming, actually being drafted this year. When we first changed the minimum age from 18 to 19, the following year in 2006 we had two one-and-done players.

So my sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.

So we’re going to come together with everyone who is interested in the community, whether it be the colleges, the of course our union, agents, lots of points of view out there, and see if we can come up with a better system.

Q. Is there just a loose time frame on an idea of when that kind of age limit discussion would happen?

ADAM SILVER: I think over the course of the next season. To be honest, I’m not standing here today saying I have the perfect solution. I do know that as I talk — increasingly the veteran players in this league, as well, who feel that the young players are not coming in game ready in the way that they were when they were coming out of college.

And we’re also seeing a dichotomy in terms of the international players. They’re coming in when they come in at 19, many of them have been professional for up to three years before they come into the league and have a very different experience than what we’re seeing from American players coming through our college programs.

Q. LeBron James had some very strong comments yesterday about the hate crime that happened at his residence in Brentwood. Just wanted to know your thoughts on what he had to say and also your thoughts on how the NBA looks at these racial issues when a lot of the players, obviously the majority of the players, are African American and international.

ADAM SILVER: Let me begin by saying I’m so pleased that LeBron and his family are safe, of course, and that they weren’t living in that residence when it happened. I heard his concern for his family and how he has to approach his children and the fact he’s not with his kids to be with them to explain, frankly, a horrific incident like that. So my heart goes out to him, especially when all his focus obviously needs to be on the floor. That’s just a distraction that no one could possible need.

As to the incident itself, it’s a sad state of affairs. I don’t think there’s any doubt, none of us are naive, that we still live with these types of issues in our society. I think your question about the league’s role, I think there’s a strong history in this league of speaking out on issues of inequality, of racial injustice.

LeBron himself has been incredibly articulate on these issues, as he was the other day. I think about this platform we have in sports and that this is an opportunity to continue to unify people, to demonstrate to people, they see it out on the floor, what it means to run a system where there is true — or as close as we have in our society to true egalitarian system, where people are judged entirely on merit. And I think there’s a role we can continue to play in society as a unifier. It’s so easy in this day and age to pull people apart, yet we have this platform. I think about it in my opening remarks where we have people here gathered, even just the media from around the world, we have a league that is 75 percent African American, but also 25 percent international. So it’s a true melting pot. Have you people coming together from all walks of life, from around the world, all playing together on the floor under a common set of rules.

So I think that we’re going to redouble our efforts, I think, in working directly with our players, with our Players Association, and speaking out on these types of issues.

Q. Regarding the All-Star Game, what was the burning immediacy to get to Charlotte? Why not wait for the moratorium and the current legislation to expire in 2020 that prohibits municipalities and localities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances?

ADAM SILVER: There wasn’t a burning issue. The situation we had in Charlotte is of course we had already awarded the All-Star Game for 2018, and it was a function of the years. At the time we moved the All-Star Game, we had said to the legislative leaders that we will consider coming back in 2019 if you change the law.

Q. Do you feel like the law was changed sufficiently?

ADAM SILVER: Well, that’s a great question. The law was changed. Sufficient is a tough — the answer is yes, I felt that they made incremental progress. And I felt in part related to my response to the last question, I think there is a role that the league can play in demonstrating what equality looks like to a community. I think there that a new governor came in, certainly he made the request directly to us that if they could make progress with the legislature, would we be willing to bring the game back.

I think to your point that trying to measure precisely whether it was enough progress, we ultimately felt it was. I respect those who feel we may have made the wrong decision, but I disagree factually for those who say that the change in the law was not an improvement, or some even said was worse. The fact is that under the change in the law in North Carolina, birth certificates were no longer required to use restrooms, and it also permitted us to take our All-Star Game to Charlotte and set a set of rules, a set of principles in which we were going to operate under in that state.

Again, these are close calls for the league, but I think ultimately it’s that expression that sport imitates life. I think sometimes life can imitate sport. And I think that we can be in a position where we go in and say, this is what it looks like to operate under a set of egalitarian principles, and this is what it looks like to be nondiscriminatory, in this case against the LGBTQ community. And my hope is by setting that example, we can unify people and that the state will follow.

Q. You mentioned how some college players aren’t necessarily coming in game ready. Regardless of what happens with the one-and-done system, do you view the Gatorade League as a potential talent pipeline for high school players to enter into rather than going to college or rather than declaring immediately for the draft?

ADAM SILVER: That is something that we’re going to spend more time looking at. So in terms of the D-League now, the Gatorade League, we added two-way contracts in our last round of collective bargaining. So now, in essence, there will be 60 new NBA positions in the Gatorade League. These two slots per team in which you won’t be a NBA player, but you’ll be at some elevated role beyond what traditionally the D-League was and which and you’ll be able to make more money as well and then be brought up to your team.

The goal when we initially did that was not then to try to attract high school players. And, in fact, those two-way contracts, you still need to be NBA eligible, which is still 19, in order to get one of those contracts. But that is something that we’re going to continue to look at. Right now, you can go into the Gatorade League at 18. We don’t promote that, we’re not trying to compete against college, and we still think right now going to these great college programs is the better path into the NBA.

But again, it’s something we have to look at. As I said, when we now have 20 members of a 60-person two-round draft coming directly from one year of college, I think then from a training standpoint we really got to rethink this process. And as I’ve said before, I don’t think we should just focus on 18 to 19, I think we got to look younger, at the whole AAU system. And, again, I understand I shouldn’t use a broad brush to criticize the entire AAU system, because parts of it are excellent, but also parts of it are very broken. Especially this relates to injuries in the league. What we’re seeing is a rash of injuries among young players. What our orthopedics are telling us is they’re seeing wear-and-tear issues in young players that they didn’t used to see until players were much older. We know that these young players — now, this is before college — are playing in AAU programs, sometimes eight and 10 games in a weekend. Of course Little League has pitch counts. AAU does not have the equivalent.

So we got to look at the whole system holistically. That’s why the question before about the timeline. I think Kiki VanDeWeghe, Byron Spruell, our president of league operations, are very focused on it, Kathy Behrens, head of our player programs, is looking at it. But we’re going to put together a task force of people and spend a lot of time on it over the next year.

Q. Phil Jackson had some comments that got the attention of Michele Roberts, and she asked for him to be punished. I’m wondering, was there ever something you considered, and what was the reasoning behind whatever decision you made?

ADAM SILVER: We did not consider disciplining Phil Jackson for those comments about potentially trading Carmelo. The view of the league is that it’s not reciprocal. Players can’t trade themselves. Teams can trade players. So there’s never been a history in this league of fining a team or disciplining a team executive for talking about trading a player. And that’s all I have to say on that.

Q. What was your take from your conversation with Phil when he brought up and he said you guys reached a comfort level? I don’t remember his exact words, but he said that he called you about this issue.

ADAM SILVER: He and I talk about lots of things. I mean we did not talk all that specifically about his public comments.

Q. Anything you can share from your chat with Steve Kerr tonight?

ADAM SILVER: What I’ll share is that I’ve known Steve for probably close to 25 years, and my heart goes out to him. I think, as he and I talked about, it puts this all into perspective. I think for those who have dealt with long-term physical ailments or had family members or others, all those clichés are true, that nothing is as important as your health.

And I think that, as Steve said, this should be one of the great moments of his storied basketball career, and instead he’s going to be sitting in the locker room rather than being out on the floor coaching his team. I think, as all of you know, he’s still intimately involved in game preparation and talking to Coach Brown and talking to his players. But it was just more two friends saying hello to each other.

Q. Certainly I’m aware of and appreciate the efforts you guys are going to to make sure that you don’t have multiple star players resting on big national TV games, all the changes that you guys have already made and are coming into effect at the beginning of next season. But there are of course 82 regular season games that you are asking fans to pay attention to, spend money on. I know you said at the All-Star Game it’s become pretty apparent that the science has shown that players just can’t keep up with the schedule as it is now and sort of stay healthy and that’s why they have to rest and it’s sort of a cost of doing business. How are you guys going to resolve the fact that you’re asking fans to pay for something that we’re sort of acknowledging players can’t show up and put the product that we’re asking fans to pay for, how are you guys talking about expanding the schedule even deeper, another month, or reducing games? How are you going to solve that problem?

ADAM SILVER: One of the ways we’re going to solve the problem is we agreed with the union to add a week to the regular season for next year. We haven’t done that yet. So a same number of games spread out over additional week. What we’re learning, I mean, back to your point about the science and the data, is that it’s not 82 games, it’s not the length of the season, it’s the time between the games and that there’s a direct correlation between fatigue and injury on the part of the players.

And, as you point out, what happened this past season was the resting of multiple starters on the same night. Resting in itself is not a new issue in this league. I mean, part of the difficulty in making the comparisons from our historical seasons is that we didn’t used to have a category called DNP, do not play, resting. That’s only three years old on the stat sheet.

But when you look back at the actual number of games — just taking All-Stars as a sample of players, over 30 years, our All-Stars are playing just about the same number of games this past season than they did 30 years ago.

So I don’t think we’re asking anything differently of our fans. And, in fact, look, we have a league of 450 of the best players in the world. I think it’s always been part of this league and it’s part of every sport that players rest occasionally.

And I would also say back to those fans that here we are going into The Finals with a No. 1 seed in the West, No. 2 seed in the East, two teams that obviously had tremendous regular seasons, and every player is healthy. So I don’t necessarily think the fan benefits by somehow if the league could require a player who wasn’t injured but was banged up to play in a game when the trainers felt that player needed rest. I don’t think the fan benefits by requiring that player to play and then that player getting injured.

I think what you want to see over the course of a long regular season is a buildup towards teams getting better, teams gelling on the floor, players increasing their skills and then coming together for a great Final. So whether we should add yet additional time is something we’ll continue to look at. So we added a week.

We are also requiring our arenas to free up more dates. We’re competing against everything else that happens in these buildings, so you can only imagine the number of permutations that go into the computer program. But if we can ask them to hold yet additional nights, that also enables us to create more space between the games.

And we had a good discussion with our teams at our last owners meeting, which was in April, and I think there is a recognition from teams that on one hand a certain amount of resting is just inevitable and appropriate to keep the players healthy, but that they shouldn’t be resting multiple starters on the same night. And, incidentally, wherever possible, they should rest at home. Because there, while I feel for the home fans, just as much as the away fans, the away fans may only get a chance to see that team once. And of course the home team home fans can see that team many times.

Q. With the additional week, right, it’s still a lot back-to-backs and things like that. Have you guys looked at maybe doing a more of a hockey calendar and doing maybe a whole additional month?

ADAM SILVER: We haven’t looked at a whole additional month. Of course we’re adding an additional week, and we’ll go from there. But as I said, I think with adding the additional week, freeing up more dates, we’ll see what impact that has. But I know the union is also open to discussing possibly spreading out the season a little bit more. My desire is not to be giving this press conference in July. That’s the issue.

Q. You came into position as commissioner of the league with LeBron as arguably the most accomplished player in his prime. It’s been reported that you guys consulted on extending the All-Star break to have an extra week. He was on the board with the NBPA when you guys avoided a lockout this past December. How would you characterize both his influence on the league and his responsibility to the league?

ADAM SILVER: I would say in terms of his influence, I’m not sure I would characterize my having consulted with LeBron, he told me that he felt we should extend the All-Star break. In fact, it came up — we regularly meet with teams, and at that time he was still a member of the Heat, and I was meeting with the entire team, and I think he and Dwyane Wade both together had said, they had suggested creating more of an All-Star break because the All-Stars actually end up probably working harder those few days during All-Star than they even do in the regular season and they weren’t getting any break at all.

So I would say in that case it was more my listening to players like LeBron. I think but then he’s morphed into more of a formal role, because now he’s one of the executive directors of the union. So in that capacity we had formal meetings where during over the course of collective bargaining he attended meetings, he shared his point of view. It wasn’t just with me, but with owners who were in the room and other executives from the league as well. We have an advantage I think sometimes over the other leagues that we’re a pretty small league, I mean, that we have 450 players, and then especially when you take the group of All-Stars and their desire to be directly involved in this league, our salary cap of course is based on a partnership with the players, where in essence they’re getting 50 cents of every dollar that the league generates. And so I think there’s a tradition of working in partnership.

And on top of that, I think what also makes this league so special is that we have former players as owners. So of course Michael Jordan, but most recently Grant Hill in Atlanta, Shaq buying into Sacramento, David Robinson in San Antonio. So it’s that full lifecycle. So I think it would be irresponsible of me not to be here listening to our players and especially key players. And beyond that, I think it results in a better business. I don’t think that’s unique to sports. I think that sort of anyone in my position who runs a business should be always listening to their key employees.

Q. My question is about China, and you know since Yao Ming retired, it’s been awhile. No Chinese player has played in this league. But now another Chinese player, Zhou Qi, will probably sign with the Houston Rockets for next season. I know it’s not official yet, but could you talk about how much that the NBA welcomes international and Chinese players to come here and play.

ADAM SILVER: It frustrates me that there are no Chinese players in the NBA right now. There’s probably more basketball being played in China than anywhere else in the world. And more basketball is being watched, more NBA basketball is being watched in China than anywhere else in the world. And it’s something I talked to Yao Ming a lot about, and I think ultimately that we all collectively have to do a better job training the best players in China. Sort of relates to the earlier question even about American players. But how we can train Chinese players to ultimately compete at the highest level in the NBA.

One of the things that we have worked with Yao on and are now creating are academies in China. So we can bring together some of the best players at a young age, they can compete against each other, they can compete internationally in the summer, because ultimately that’s what enables them to become NBA players, become the greatest players, by competing against top-notch competition.

I’ve made this point before, and Yao has made it to me, that when you look at Lithuania, when you look at Serbia, when you look at Latvia, countries that have populations of less than 10 million, and all three of those countries with several NBA players, how can it be that a country of 1.3 billion people where there’s an enormous amount of basketball being played has no NBA players right now.

So we think it’s something we need to focus on. And Yao now in his position as head of the Chinese Basketball Association is very interested in working with us on this. Also of course China has a great interest in doing it as well because they compete in the Olympics, they compete in the World Cup of Basketball, so they also want to be in a position to field championship teams.

So I have no doubt that hopefully Zhou Qi, as you said, will turn out to be an NBA-quality player as well. I have never seen him play in person, but I’ve seen tape of him playing, and he seems like he could be a great player. But we need to increase the pool of top-notch Chinese players. I think it will have a great impact on our league, and I think it will be good for Chinese basketball as well.

Q. With labor peace established at this point, how are you feeling about expansion in the near or the long-term?

ADAM SILVER: Expansion is not something we’re looking at right now. It is less a function of labor peace, it more goes to the strength of a 30-team league. The initial question today was what do you feel about the competitive balance when two teams blew through the Playoffs? From my standpoint, for the league, you want ultimately a league where 30 teams are in a position where they can ultimately compete for championships and also be economically viable. From an economic standpoint, we are doing better than we did historically, but we’re still not at a point where we have 30 teams that are profitable. And in terms of the pool of talent, it’s quite remarkable to me that people can look at this league and say there are only two teams that can compete when every great player in the world, whether they’re from China or whether they’re from Pittsburgh, ends up in this league.

So I also have to look at the potential for dilution of the existing talent we have before we expand. I have no doubt at some point we’ll turn back to it, but at least in my last discussions with our owners on this, most of them said let’s keep focusing on the health of these 30 teams and the quality of the competition. When we feel we’re in a better place with the 30 teams we have, maybe at that point we can look to expand.

Q. Could you characterize the league’s relationship with the technology community, especially here in Silicon Valley, and how important that is to the league’s future?

ADAM SILVER: I think we have a great relationship with the tech community here in the Bay Area. So much credit goes to the Warriors, to Joe Lacob, to Rick Welts. They have established those relationships, but also the league has come in, we have partnerships with almost all of the leading tech companies here.

I think the happenstance of having one of your top teams playing in this community of course generates even more interest, but I also look at those companies long-term as potential distributors of live game broadcasting. Right now of course our games are largely distributed certainly in the United States through traditional media companies. Not so much outside the United States, incidentally. There we’re in business with more so-called over-the-top providers and other social media platforms. But we have done lots of experiments whether it be with Facebook, with Twitter, with YouTube, with Instagram, with other great technology companies, and my sense is over time those companies are increasingly going to look to premium live sports as a way of differentiating themselves from their competitors, so we continue to cultivate those relationships.

Q. How about smaller companies? And how do you find them?

ADAM SILVER: Well, the smaller companies generally seem to find us. Anybody’s asking, there’s a woman who works at the NBA named Melissa Brenner. She seems to know all of those small companies. And so she finds them, she meets with them, and then she brings the really interesting ones to me and to Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner, and to Bill Koenig, who runs our media business.

We have encouraged a lot of those companies to experiment with our content, not so much our live games, but certainly we cultivated, as I said earlier, a very large global social media community. We have encouraged those companies to work with our content, to find new ways to connect their users directly into the NBA, whether it’s through our players, whether it’s through our teams or through the league office, and we think that’s been very successful. And I think that’s part of why the league has been so popular. Especially over the last decade. I think it’s really by embracing the tech community and social media.

Q. Along the lines of the rest issue, how does the league view teams that are losing late in the season who are resting healthy players in order to improve their lottery chances and just how that can affect the standings of other teams who are trying to move up and just the whole lottery process when you have teams doing that?

ADAM SILVER: It drives me crazy. But it’s been an issue, though, that the league has been dealing with for many decades. Of course, the draft lottery was put in place close to 35 years ago precisely to deal with that issue.

And you try to find the right balance. On one hand, the purpose of the draft is to help the weakest teams rebuild and get the best players coming into the league. On the other hand, you want teams to have an incentive to win and an incentive not to be constantly in a rebuilding mode.

Now, some of that resting at the end of the season is completely legitimate. Because if I were a team and I needed to make decisions about younger players and decisions about the type of player I wanted to draft or who I wanted to try and acquire in the free agency market, I might want to see some of my younger players with more minutes. And so that’s something that’s generally done towards the end of the season.

But look, there’s no doubt about it, there’s a certain amount of gamesmanship that’s going on with our teams in terms of resting of healthy players at the end of the season. And we have made proposals to our teams on additional changes to the draft lottery. I think we have changed it five times so far over the 30-plus years it’s been in effect. But it’s not working exactly the way we would like it to, and I think it’s something we have to turn back to. We’re not at the point where we’re going to have relegation to the Gatorade League and the way they do in Europe. That would stop it, but we’re not prepared to do that. But I think there’s more we can do to disincentivize teams from that behavior.