Adam Silver: Man In Charge

by April 18, 2016
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The NBA Commissioner’s corner office sits 15 floors above midtown Manhattan with sprawling views of Central Park and an attached conference room. The last time SLAM was welcomed to this domain was 2004, when two editors sat with then-Commish David Stern and ran through all sorts of League issues. Twelve years later, I took a seat in the aforementioned conference room next to Adam Silver, who replaced Stern in early 2014. We hadn’t attempted a sit-down with Silver since he’d taken the job, because, well, we figured he’s a pretty busy dude.

“Where have you been?” he immediately asked me. “I’ve been Commish for over two years now.”

Oops.

SLAM: Are you a SLAM subscriber?

AS: Absolutely, I subscribe to SLAM and I do read SLAM. You guys talk to a core part of our audience and you guys spot trends often before we do. I’m fascinated with who you choose to put on the cover. It doesn’t necessarily coincide to the teams that get the most exposure on national TV.

I have one question for SLAM: How does the magazine travel across the country without those subscriber cards falling out?

SLAM: It’s some sort of physics magic that I will never understand either.

AS: My apartment is littered with those cards. As soon as I touch the magazine they fall out, yet it’s come across the country without being encapsulated in plastic—there’s a physics issue there. Static electricity or something.

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SLAM: At the time of our interview with David Stern in 2004, the NBA was running ads featuring Elvis and Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones, and the writers we sent were jokingly needling David, saying players don’t really listen to that kind of music. David responded by saying, “Well, we have that lane and we have SLAM—it’s good to have that balance.” Now it all overlaps: The SLAM culture and the NBA culture are essentially the same thing, and there’s much less division within pop culture in general. Are you conscious of that? And how does that affect the way the NBA operates?

AS: Yes, it does influence me. In the same way that I read SLAM, it doesn’t mean I’m not still reading Sports Illustrated or ESPN: The Magazine. But I also think it’s just as important for me to read the Style Section as it is the Science Section. I feel that one of the great things about the NBA is that we are both influenced by culture and we influence culture. To your point, the last thing I wanna do is stay in my lane. I think it was in GQ recently, there was a spread on player wardrobes from All-Star and the players are there, but also many of the celebrities/entertainers who were in town as well. There’s always been, at least in my tenure at the NBA, that marriage with entertainers and athletes. It’s a little bit cliché to say, but you always get the sense the athletes wanna be the entertainers and vice versa.

Even from when [SLAM] did that last interview with David, I was running NBA Entertainment. So I was at the center of the production of many of those spots. I think you’re right—it’s interesting that there was, back then, more of a so-called mainstream audience. I think primetime had a meaning that it no longer has. You know, what’s primetime on Netflix? What’s primetime for House of Cards? The same way, back then I think the Billboard chart was more meaningful in terms of what so-called mainstream music is. And now audiences are much more dispersed. You can’t just, even as a marketer, you can’t reliably buy primetime now and reach your audience in the same way that the front page of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal doesn’t reach America in the way it once did. And so I think for us it means that we have to have more balls in the air.

SLAM: How would you describe your job?

AS: I begin by saying I’m incredibly fortunate. I believe that I have one of the best jobs in the world as Commissioner. I have an incredibly diverse day. It ranges from, of course, dealing with our teams, maybe having a conversation with one of the owners, talking to a team president about a marketing campaign, talking to a GM about what he thinks we should be doing about Hack-a-Shaq. And of course, managing the roughly 1,000 people who work in the League office. I spend probably too much of my time in meetings every day but it’s a necessary part of running the business.

I travel extensively. It’s harder than I thought it would be when I took this job to get to 30 NBA teams every season, plus we have 10 international offices that I try to get to every year but they are as far away as Shanghai, Mumbai and Johannesburg. I spend a fair amount of time talking directly to business partners of the League. That means regular conversations with

David Levy, who runs Turner Sports, and John Skipper, who runs ESPN, and many of their colleagues. On top of that, I’m very involved with the WNBA and the Development League.

SLAM: That’s a lot.

AS: What makes my job so interesting is that it’s chock-full and it’s constantly changing. I should add to that mix I’ve been, especially in the last few years, building relationships with players as well. We encourage players when they’re coming through New York to stop by the League office. Not only to say hello to me, but get a sense of our business. Part of my time therefore is spent dealing directly with the Players Association.

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SLAM: Do you expect Nike to do anything different than what adidas is currently doing when they become the official provider of NBA jerseys?

AS: I do. I’ll say we’ve had a wonderful relationship with adidas, but adidas was not endemic to basketball. They are at root a soccer company. I think on the other hand, with Nike, as I heard Mark Parker, the CEO, say, basketball is the soul of Nike. Even in the case of Mark Parker, he grew up in the organization as a shoe designer.

I was out in Beaverton recently and they have in essence an R&D center, where they have prototypes, where they have their equivalent of mad scientists who are noodling different approaches to uniforms: new fabrics, new styles, new fits. I have no doubt wearables will come into the equation. I think they are committed to sports science. They also recognize that we shouldn’t just think of the uniform as a fashion item—that the uniform ultimately directly correlates to performance, including injury prevention. And Nike, again, it’s a season and a half before they will begin being our official on-court supplier. I’m really excited to see what comes. But I have no doubt that they’re gonna once again change the game. That’s who they are. As I said, thank you to adidas, they’ve been wonderful partners. But I think Nike is ready to take it to another level.

SLAM: At the moment there are no adidas logos on NBA jerseys. After the new deal starts, are we going to see a Nike logo on the jerseys? And does that open the door for other advertisements on them?

AS: Number one, yes. As part of our new deal with Nike, the Swoosh will be on the jersey.

SLAM: I know some people were wondering if the Jordan Brand logo would be on some of them, too.

AS: That is not clear yet. There will definitely be a Swoosh and there is an ongoing discussion with Nike about Jordan Brand being represented on the team owned by Jordan Brand [laughs].

In terms of other advertising on jerseys, that’s an ongoing discussion with our Board of Governors. We experimented this year at the All-Star Game in Toronto—you may have seen there was a Kia patch on the uniform. That’s something that we’re considering doing.

SLAM: You’ve made it clear you’d like to raise the NBA’s age minimum. Do you see changes to that happening in the near future?

AS: The minimum age is now 19, and yes I’ve said historically that my preference would be that it would be 20 instead of 19—it’s a subject that needs to be collectively bargained with the players. It’s nothing that the League can do unilaterally. It’s something that, with the Players Association, we’ve agreed that given that it’s a subject of collective bargaining, it’s something that we will not talk about publicly. But certainly my preference has not changed.

Adam Figman is the Editor-in-Chief at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @afigman.