NBA All Star 2021: Ahead of the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, Commissioner Adam Silver spoke to the media on the league’s most prominent and trending topics.
On the 2021-22 season’s start date and the league’s “appetite” for International exhibition games
Commissioner Adam Silver: First of all, no plans yet to travel for next season. In all likelihood, we won’t travel internationally until the following season at the earliest. But the plan remains to try to resume our season as close to so-called normal as possible next year.
It was one of the reasons why, in setting the schedule this year, we decided to stop in mid-July. We both wanted to allow those players who wanted to participate in the Olympics to do so, but in addition, we realized if we were going to get back on cycle, and the players were going to get the appropriate downtime before the season began, we didn’t want to go deep into the summer or fall, as we did last season.
Frankly, I’m fairly optimistic at this point that we will be able to start on time, and that we have roughly half of our teams have fans in their arenas right now.
If vaccines continue at the pace they are, and they continue to be as effective as they have been against the virus and its variants, we’re hopeful that we’ll have relatively full arenas next season as well.
NBA All Star 2021: On diversity and inclusion to improve in the coaching, front office, and ownership ranks
Silver: It’s going to take certainly more than we’re doing now. We’ve made progress over the years. We’re constantly looking at how we can do better. The Coaches Association is working closely with us on this.
First of all, I don’t think there are any quick fixes. I think we want to appropriately respect everyone who’s involved. There’s no coach that I know who wants to get hired based on his skin color, but they want a fair opportunity. Part of that is ensuring that we’re developing coaches appropriately in the pipeline, that they’re getting the right opportunities to interview, the right opportunities to network as other coaches have historically done. As I said, I don’t think there’s any doubt there’s more work to be done.
I’ll only add that I think the league deserves to be looked at as a whole. Of course, the head coaching position is critically important as representatives of the organization. But I think if you look across the league and its teams in terms of the progress we’ve made in terms of diversity, I would hold us up to virtually any other company.
Again, it doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done and we don’t need some fresh approaches, but I also think we’ve made a fair amount of progress over the years.
NBA All Star 2021: On if the league is considering a bubble again for the 2021 NBA Playoffs
Silver: We’re not considering going back to a bubble right now. I don’t rule anything out just because one thing we’ve all come to understand over the last year is that the virus is firmly in charge. We need to adjust to circumstances as they present themselves.
But as I said in response to the prior question, I’d say maybe for the first time in the past year I’m fairly optimistic right now that as we see fans returning to our arenas, as we see public health officials across the country begin to open up sporting events, theaters, restaurants, other forms of entertainment, I feel pretty good that we’re going to continue apace.
By the time we reach the playoffs in mid-May, things will even be considerably better than they are now. Also, obviously here in the United States, we’ve been making excellent progress in terms of vaccinations. That will be very helpful in getting people back in the arenas.
NBA All Star 2021: On the “biggest impediment for the glass ceiling” that Black coaches have to become head coaches across the league
Silver: First of all, there shouldn’t be an impediment, as we all know. I would say as a practical matter, what we’re seeing happen, and I think this is in part human nature, people tend to turn to the people who they know best and they’re most familiar with.
I think in certain cases you have a network of relationships that go back many years. To the extent that people aren’t part of those networks, they’re clearly as a disadvantage in the process.
One of the things the league can do in working with our teams, therefore, is focus on a better process that ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to sort of join the fraternity, so to speak. You’re not going to get to be a head coach in this league unless you serve most likely as an assistant coach first or you’ve been a top player in the league.
I realize a lot of these things don’t happen automatically, that it requires real focus and intentionality. That’s one thing the league has learned over the years, that you have to be vigilant, you have to constantly be talking about these things, you have to keep looking at the data.
I think grand statements aren’t all that helpful, whether from me or others. It comes down to very specific tactics. Using the opportunity whenever we talk to our teams to go back to the data and say, Here is where we are, here is the number of assistant coaches, this is how the processes have worked.
That is, I think, what is necessary. Like with most things in life, there are no real magic bullets here. As I said earlier, I just want to make sure we’re respecting everyone as part of the process, too.
Lastly, I’ll say I don’t want to create a process in which people are checking the boxes, and that someone becomes the Black candidate who got interviewed but didn’t get the job. Everyone knows that person wasn’t really going to get the job, but somebody went through a process to appease the league office or somebody else.
It requires real engagement. That’s just how I’ll conclude.
NBA All Star 2021: On the current financial status of the NBA
Silver: The long-term health of the league is very solid. Between last year and this year, we’re looking at considerable losses. I generally don’t talk about that publicly because teams are largely privately held. We’re not suggesting that is anybody else’s issue but ours.
Last season and this season have required a significant investment on the part of the team owners. They accept that. Players will end up taking a reduction in salary this season because they are partners with the league and teams on revenue. The executives, team executives, have all taken haircuts on their salary.
I think when we all step back, we feel very fortunate to be working under these circumstances. My sense is the players feel the same way.
NBA All Star 2021: On the satisfaction of the first half of the season
Silver: In terms of the first half of the season, it went essentially as we had expected. We ended up playing 95% of our games. We knew we were going to get positive cases for players and staff members operating out of the bubble. I felt our protocols held up as well as we could have hoped. It seems that we are able, through our testing protocols, to catch infections very early. The goal was to catch infections before people become infectious and prevent spread. We feel we’ve done that fairly effectively.
I feel good about the first half of the season. Again, I credit the schedule makers who had the foresight to divide the season in two parts. We were able to have the flexibility to push games into the second half of the season. Obviously, we won’t have that same flexibility in the second half. Something we’re watching for closely.
NBA All Star 2021: On vaccinations, if any coaches or players have been vaccinated, and the next steps once vaccinations become more common
Silver: First of all, there is no player that I am aware of that has been vaccinated yet. Number two, there are some coaches who have been vaccinated, as well as some team personnel. The coaches who have been vaccinated is because they were age-appropriate under the protocols in the jurisdictions where they live. There are other team personnel, again, it’s state by state, but because they’re either health-care providers, we have doctors working with the team, et cetera. So there have been some members of the community that have been vaccinated.
In terms of the education efforts, those are ongoing. I think ultimately these are personal decisions that players need to make, just like everyone in our communities needs to make. We see our role, together with the Players Association, as providing them with the best possible information, and also encouraging them to seek out information on their own. They have personal physicians, others they may rely on.
Dr. Leroy Sims, who works with the NBA, has been conducting a series of Zoom calls with the teams. I know the teams have been also providing their own resources to players, along with the Players Association, to help them make those decisions.
I don’t think that every player certainly needs to be vaccinated for fans to come back. I mean, that’s not anything that the health authorities have suggested to us. I think we’re now fairly familiar with those kinds of engagements that can lead to people getting the virus from someone else.
There may be a herd immunity aspect to this, which means whether in our community or in jurisdictions, a certain percentage of people who have been vaccinated or have antibodies will cover others.
I also think being realistic, around the NBA, as I said, we have no plans to mandate that players get vaccinated. For any sort of large-scale, required vaccinations to take place, that can only happen with the Players Association. As I said, we’ve only talked about educational efforts.
So I don’t see every player needing to get vaccinated as an impediment to fans returning to the arena. No more do I think the fact that every fan won’t be vaccinated is an impediment of fans coming back to the arena.
I think it’s with a combination of vaccines, antibodies, herd immunity in communities, proper safety and cleanliness protocols, we’ll be able to return to something that looks a lot closer to normal beginning next season, at least based on the information I have available to me today.
NBA All Star 2021: On plans for the 2021 NBA Summer League
Silver: We don’t have concrete plans yet for the Summer League. It’s something we began to think about. Certainly, we would love to pick back up our Summer League in Las Vegas. We know that the teams very much value it as an opportunity to see, as you said, the undrafted players, and also to get some of the drafted players some time on the court.
This is going to be a very difficult draft for our teams – abbreviated college seasons, not the same opportunity to scout and visit with players that they have had historically.
I think we’re going to end up as some combination of, built into your question, maybe an abbreviated Summer League, mini camps and other opportunities. I think everything is on the table now.
As we’re seeing progress in our communities, I’m increasingly hopeful we’ll be able to do and put together some of those events.
I know for our teams, from a competitive standpoint, it’s critically important they get an opportunity to see those players, particularly ones who aren’t in the two-round draft. For the ones who do get drafted, get them an opportunity to put some court time in before the season starts.
NBA All Star 2021: On Kyrie Irving’s suggestion to change the NBA logo to Kobe Bryant
Silver: There are no ongoing discussions right now at the league office about changing the logo. I certainly saw Kyrie Irving’s comments. Again, everything changes over time. Nothing’s permanently fixed.
But the logo is iconic.
As you know, we’re distributed globally. Even changing the logo, purely even from a legal standpoint, isn’t an easy exercise. Not that that should be the impediment.
The suggestion around Kobe Bryant, of course, gives me an opportunity to remind everyone last year we named the All-Star MVP trophy after Kobe Bryant, no doubt one of the greatest ever in this league, someone we all knew so well. So, sure, he would be on the list, no doubt, if we were thinking about changing it.
It doesn’t feel to me that this is the appropriate moment to be changing the logo. While it’s never been officially declared that the logo is Jerry West, it sure looks a lot like him. He still is thriving in our community. I know he’s so self-effacing and has said, please change it if that’s what people want to do. It just doesn’t feel like the right moment to be thinking about that.
That doesn’t mean, again, that we won’t turn back and look at it at some point. To me, I appreciate the sentiments, but it feels like the logo is appropriate right now.
NBA All Star 2021: On the possibility of allowing players to enter the NBA Draft straight out of high school again
Silver: On the one-and-done, there have been discussions with the Players Association. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in essence, brought Michele [Roberts] and I together on that issue because she chaired a commission on behalf of the NCAA to look at the issue. As it is well-known now, she made a recommendation that we return to 18 as our minimum age.
As a result, Michele and I did discuss it. We discussed it directly with Secretary Rice. We both agreed that as part of the process of looking at a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, we should discuss that issue.
It’s one where I think we’re both on both sides of the issue sometimes in terms of what it will mean for the league to have younger players in the league. It sort of brings to the forefront really your second question in terms of the development cycle of players.
Twenty-five percent of the players in this league come from outside of the United States. In most of their jurisdictions, they become professionals not at 18 but often at 14. It’s a whole different development cycle. It’s something that, of course, we pay a lot of attention to.
I don’t have any fundamental opposition to paying younger people who have a unique skill where other people are benefiting from their services. So my reaction to the new league is that optionality is good.
I think for the NBA, we of course in our G League do allow players to come directly from high school. Minimum age 19 in the NBA, and it’s 18 in the G League. We created Team Ignite in the G League as an opportunity for players who choose not to go to college and want to become professionals. They can go directly into the G League and be well compensated. Under the theory, too, in addition to being compensated for their services, they can focus full time on the potential opportunity to play in the NBA.
We recognize that is not for everyone. There may be the player who is not at that skill level yet where he’s been identified as sort of a clear prospect. There are other young people who grow a lot at that age or whatever else or want to go to college.
To me, options are a good thing. I think for the younger high school player if they can see an opportunity to play basketball and make money and get educated at the same time – I think for us right now, the NBA, we don’t want to be in the business of paying minors.
It doesn’t feel right for us right now, in part because it’s complicated in making sure that those young people, since they aren’t of the age of consent, are getting the proper guidance and the support to make those kinds of decisions, because it may mean giving up college eligibility, for example, at a young age to play professionally.
I think it’s generally good for the community to have optionality, especially when very solid people, which appears to be the case in this league that’s just been announced, are backing it and behind it.
That’s one thing we will pay a lot of attention to because those young players are potentially the future of our league. We want to make sure that both on the court and off the court they’re getting the right mentoring and guidance.
But overall, I think it’s good for the game. It’s more focus on the game. Especially all that’s happening now in digital media, social media, new streaming services, there’s definitely interest in this content. So we’re paying attention to that.