The Ball Briefing: A Vote of No Confidence in Adam Silver
The NBA Commissioner has had a rough few months and hasn't done himself any favors.
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Adam Silver Is Messing Up By Alex Lange
Adam Silver might be the sports commissioner with the highest media approval rating and approval rating by the league he oversees. The owners, his actual employers, seem to like him. He has a tendency to take broadly popular positions publicly and seems to be a legitimately nice guy trying his best at his job. His relationship with the players union and the league’s stars seems to be productive and as non-adversarial as it can be. Why does it feel like he’s missing the boat lately?
The past year has been a challenging one for anyone in charge of running a public-facing business. Exactly one year ago today, March 11th, 2020, Adam Silver made the momentous and necessary decision to suspend all NBA action following the positive Covid tests for members of the Utah Jazz. This was a tough decision made the right way at the right time. The league’s subsequent bubble was also a massive success.
It is odd and hypocritical to proudly advertise all that the NBA did this past summer, only to boldly ignore it less than 3 months later. The league decided to cave to pressure from all parties and sacrifice safety for something resembling normal operations. Naturally, there were consequences. At the worst point, up to 16 players were testing positive in a single week in early January. Players have been in and out of lineups due to contact tracing, perhaps most notably All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were last-second scratches from last weekend’s All-Star Game.
The decision to hold the All-Star game might be the best illumination of why I have very little confidence in Adam Silver at this moment. The only reason this game happened was to make money. The players, the fans, and the City of Atlanta didn’t want it. The league knew there was a risk all of its best players could get COVID, looked at the balance sheet, and said “eh worth the risk get them to Atlanta.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the goal of a business leader being profit maximization. However, there is an issue when you run pieces talking about your bold leadership then, the moment the bottom line is threatened, you boldly choose not to follow your own example prioritizing safety. Don’t promote your support of racial and social justice if you’re going to turn a blind eye to what appears to be rampant antisemitism in the NBA community or blame a team executive for suffering police abuse.
It rings hollow to those who pay attention. At a certain point, the NBA talking about how much it cares about disadvantaged people starts to seem like a Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad when you don’t back it up with concrete actions or consistency. Or even worse, they just start looking like the NFL.
So why am I blaming Adam Silver for this? Because the buck stops with him. He took over for the greatest commissioner in the history of US Professional Sports David Stern. A no-nonsense, visionary, at times too powerful force in the NBA. For 30 years, David Stern’s voice was the voice of god in the NBA. Stern was so powerful he could veto a trade for “basketball reasons” and people would gripe, but they accepted it. He was viewed as cold, calculating, a bit of a jerk perhaps, but ultimately the fans grew to love him for it and the long-term perspective on his career as commissioner is an overwhelmingly positive one. This wasn’t because he was making easy choices, or even always making the right choices. But because when he made them, they were Stern’s decisions and for Stern’s reasons. He was the boss.
When Adam Silver makes a decision, it feels like it’s been run through 4 different PR firms and media tested. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Silver does leak things directly to the media in order to get precisely the coverage he wants on things from certain reporters. Just look at Shams Charania’s tweets clarifying Simmons and Embiid’s covid tests from last weekend and tell me that’s not coming from the NBA PR people. I don’t know what Adam Silver stands for, but it seems to be for whatever way the wind is blowing.
If you need to make a tough decision to keep the lights on, just do that. People will be mad at first but they’ll get it in the long run. Adam Silver’s job is not to have a 100% approval rating, his job is to do what is best for the NBA and I think for 10 years he’s been trying to balance those two goals that just are impossible to achieve simultaneously. Take a stand, maybe be a bit of a jerk, make some changes, we’ll all still like you more than Roger Goodell or whoever the hell runs MLB.
Fast Breaks by Gabe Ibrahim
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 14 finalists for the Class of 2021. While I’ll write more extensively on each candidate soon, I do want to mention how the HoopHall has continuously failed women’s basketball. The Hall of Fame is allegedly for everyone who has played the game, yet it didn’t induct a woman for its first 17 years of existence. Now, women are lucky to make up three of the 10-12 slots for inductees. The women who do make it in are legends and, as is often the case, have to do more than their male counterparts to get in the Hall. It’s time for the HoopHall to start recognizing the full scope of the women’s contributions to the game of basketball. All four female candidates this year (Leta Andrews, Marianne Stanley, Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith) should be in without hesitation.
Today is the anniversary of Allen Iverson (as a rookie) crossing up Michael Jordan in 1997. So please enjoy that.
50 states, 100 NBA players: We chose the best from every state, New York to Hawaii by Josh Robbins and Darnell Mayberry ($)
The Year of Steph Curry (2015) by Tom Haberstroh