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Adam Silver on the State of the NBA

NBA commissioner Adam Silver on the state of the NBA, the Donald Sterling situation, the Game 1 AC issue and more.

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been a busy man since taking over for the league’s longtime commissioner David Stern, who officially retired in February. They day-to-day operations alone are daunting, but with former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rants getting leaked to the media and the air conditioning system going out in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Silver has already had to take on two of the biggest issues since the lockout.

In his handling of both matters, Silver has shown everyone that he was the right man to replace Stern. The vast majority may not have been aware of his qualifications beforehand, but so far there’s no questioning that the league is in good hands. In fact, the league has never been in a better place.

“The state of the game has never been better,” Silver said. “We’re enjoying record popularity, that is the game of basketball is enjoying record popularity at all levels, and in fact there is a renaissance going on in this country around this game. Second, the business of the NBA has never been better and we’re incredibly hopeful for a terrific future.”

It wasn’t long ago that NBA owners were complaining about losing money and that franchise values were viewed as being down. However, the recent $2 billion sale of the Clippers proves that NBA teams have never been worth more than they are right now.

“The market is what it is,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s overinflated in any way and there were several other bidders in addition to Steve Ballmer, as you know for the Clippers, and many came fairly close to the price he ultimately paid. So I have confidence that’s what the market is.”

Ballmer has an agreement in place to become the 100 percent owner of the Clippers, but is likely weeks away from officially being able to take over and put his imprint on the team.

“In terms of our owners approving Steve Ballmer, there are a few steps left in the process, a few additional things he needs to do in his deal with Shelly and Donald Sterling,” Silver said. “And then we have our Advisory Finance Committee, which is our executive committee, still needs to interview him. There is additional vetting that needs to go on. We have a pre-scheduled Board of Governors meeting for mid‑July. So we will either vote at that meeting or possibly if all those steps are completed before then, we will vote earlier than that.

“Donald Sterling still has a pending lawsuit against the league. He sued the league and me individually, based on not only the planned termination hearing but the ban as well as the fine. Now, Shelly Sterling has indemnified us against that lawsuit, and we have been told by Shelly Sterling’s lawyers that she and Donald plan to work out their remaining dispute, but that hasn’t happened yet. I have absolute confidence it will be resolved because as part of the sale agreement with Shelly Sterling, she agreed to indemnify the league against a lawsuit by her husband. So in essence, Donald is suing himself and he knows that. While I understand he is frustrated, I think it’s over. I think it’s just a matter of time now, and then we will move on to better topics and back to the Finals.”

According to recent reports, Donald is holding onto some hope that the punishments levied against him will be reduced or removed all together, but Silver quickly dismissed that possibility.

“There is absolutely no possibility that the lifetime ban will be rescinded or that the fine will be changed in any way,” Silver said.

As for the air conditioning incident in Game 1, which Silver reflected on as “not one of my prouder moments,” Silver is just glad it’s over with.

“I’m glad that this isn’t single elimination; it’s the best of seven,” Silver said. “So it’s too early to say how this Finals will be remembered. My sense is having been involved with the league for a long time, there will be all kinds of great moments that will happen, Game 2 going forward, which will stand out more than the heat in Game 1. I am satisfied that the problem has been resolved. There has been a concert in the building since Game 1. Friday night there was a concert, there was a WNBA game last night that went into double overtime. Air conditioning is obviously running fine in the building now and they’ve taken precautions to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.

“We learned shortly after the game began, so that was a little bit after 8 p.m. local time. We were told that there was a problem with one of the main circuits that controls the water pumps. We were told the circuit, in essence, the break that triggered, and we were told that they were working on resetting the breaker. In fact, it turned out they tried to reset it several times, and it wasn’t until late in the second quarter that they ultimately determined they could not fix that circuit breaker. We were informed shortly before halftime that they would be unable to fix the air conditioning.

“In hindsight it wasn’t handled perfectly, but they’d never been confronted with that issue before. We in the league office, and not just me as commissioner, but I’ve been with the league office for more than 22 years now, I’d never dealt with a situation like that before. They were consulting with us throughout. We had Rod Thorn of course was here as head of Basketball Operations. I was at the game as well. We were monitoring conditions on the floor, Rod was in constant contact and discussion with the officials, and there was never a point where we were considering either postponing or cancelling the game.”

Here’s a transcription of Silver on a variety of other topics:

What stood out to him in the aftermath of Sterling’s comments:

“You know, what stands out is how the league came together at that moment, from that Saturday in Memphis. I’m very proud of the owners that are in this league, that remain in this league. Glen Taylor, our chairman of the board, who I was in steady contact with. Peter Holt, the owner of the Spurs, who was the former chairman, was helpful to me, and plus we have an Advisory Finance Committee of another seven owners who dealt with this situation. And I’m also proud of the players in this league, the way they stepped up, I thought, as partners of the owners and we worked through this. No sides made threats. We recognized we had a difficult situation we had to deal with, as I’ve said before. Doc Rivers was terrific in the way he led his team. Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, who happened to be involved already with the Players Association, because he’s leading the search, he did a terrific job. So I would say I’ve never been prouder of the entire NBA family.”

Status of increasing the age limit to enter the NBA Draft:

“I sense there is a little bit of movement. Ron Klempner, who is the executive director of the union, said at a sports forum recently that it was something that the union was willing to discuss and certainly an individual, one‑on‑one conversations I have had with players as I travel around the league, my sense is that they’re willing to discuss it as well. The ongoing issue is that until we have a new executive director of the union, we’re not going to sit down and have any real serious discussions on the topic.”

Take on competitive balance in the league:

“Well, first, we have a Competition Committee [meeting] scheduled for July. I don’t anticipate there will be major changes for next year, because it’s a new process, I’m a new commissioner. We have a long list of issues we want to look at that affect playoff seeding, that affect the lottery, possible play‑in tournaments, other issues that have come up. I think we have to be deliberate about making changes like that. So I don’t anticipate that from July we need to have discussions with the full board as well, so I don’t anticipate anything for next year.

“I am happy with the level of competition in the league. One of the things we sought for in terms of competitive balance was ensuring that every team in the league, regardless of market size, had an opportunity to compete. I think we’re seeing that now under this collective bargaining agreement. All four teams in the Conference Finals are from the bottom half of the league in terms of market size. It’s far from perfect and we didn’t get everything we wanted in the last collective bargaining agreement. I think a hard cap or a harder cap would lead to even more competitive balance, but I’m pleased with what we’ve seen so far.

“Our goal was not to break up teams. We had a transition in which the more harsher luxury tax would be implemented. But ultimately, any type of cap system in essence is a form of player sharing. So, yes, to the extent that James Harden leaves Oklahoma City and the Houston Rockets then become a competitive team, that’s a positive thing for the league. And part of the purpose of a cap system is so you don’t see too much talent aggregated in one market.”

Regrets on potentially overlooking Donald Sterling’s past issues:

“It’s a good question, but I would only say I don’t have any specific regrets. You know, in hindsight should we have done more to investigate Donald? I’m frankly not sure. In this case, I mean, in addition to the fact that this tape in essence was broadcast to the world and so quickly became available to us, in the past these were issues that did not directly impact the NBA. And we’re not the government. He was investigated by the Department of Housing, the Department of Justice. There were individual lawsuits with him that settled out. So I was at the league during that time, and when we monitored those events, at least it felt at that time that we were doing the appropriate thing. It’s a fair point that in hindsight possibly we should have done more. Certainly if I had to do it again, maybe we would have done more but our eyes are open going forward.”

Television rights/HGH testing negotiations:

“So on television discussions, as I said before, we’re pleased with our current partners in the Disney Company and Time Warner‑Turner. We have discussions set for next week in Miami and those discussions are ongoing. It’s still my hope that we extend early before we get to the market, but we’ll see. We’ll see how those discussions go.”

“On HGH testing, yes, those discussions are still being held up ‑‑ in part by the fact that we don’t have a new executive director, and we’re also, I think, being held hostage a little bit by the NFL negotiations as well between the league and the union, because ultimately it’s the same lawyers representing the NFL Players’ Association as the NBA Players’ Association.”

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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