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February 13, 2016
THE MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone, thank you for joining us tonight for the Commissioner's press conference here at All-Star. The Commissioner will open with some opening comments, and then he'll be glad to take your questions. We'll start first with Commissioner Silver's opening comments.
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Thank you, Tim, and thank you all for being here. Unfortunately, I have to begin with a somber note tonight and that's to express our condolences to Monty Williams, who is of course the assistant coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and his five children over the loss of his wife and their mother in a tragic car accident earlier this week. Ingrid was only 44 years old, and I would just say the entire NBA family is in grieving for the Williams family.
So of course, Monty, he's a beloved figure throughout the league, and I know as I've traveled around the league over the last several days, it's something on the mind of a lot of coaches and players. So unfortunately, I thought we should talk about it, and I just wanted to begin by expressing our deepest condolences to Monty and his children. I know this is going to be a tough time for you and your family, but you have enormous support throughout the league.
Now to the matter at hand. We are thrilled to be here in Toronto for this All-Star Game. I want to begin by thanking Larry Tanenbaum, our governor of the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. They've been fantastic hosts. Of course, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is also owned by Rogers Media Company along with Bell, and their two great CEOs, Guy Laurence and George Cope, have also been fantastic supporters of the league.
And I should note that George Cope was recently named Canada's number one CEO. So congratulations to you, George, on that honor. They've been great supporters.
Let me add to that, Mayor John Tory, who I'm getting to know, he's turned the whole city out for us. Those of you who have been around the last few days, there have been not only our traditional events that are scheduled as part of All-Star, but lots of different parties, all kinds of hospitality throughout the city, a lot of fun events.
Yes, it's a bit cold here, but I've been reading up on James Naismith, Dr. James Naismith, who, of course, was born in this very province of Ontario. And what I read is when he founded this game 125 years ago, it was because he thought there was an activity needed to keep young boys, young men active on these very cold winter days. And of course, he planned it as an indoor activity. So when I keep hearing about how cold it is, I keep reminding people that's true, but our events are inside, so no big deal and we're all enjoying it here.
Let me also point out that this, of course, is our first All-Star Game outside of the United States, and I think it's an important moment for this league. We haven't crossed an ocean yet to play an All-Star Game, but who knows what the future holds for the NBA. I think this is very exciting, and of course we're joined here by media from throughout the world.
The festivities tonight and tomorrow night will be televised in 215 countries and territories, and just demonstrates how truly global this league is. So we're thrilled to be here and we're thrilled to be playing our first All-Star Game outside of the United States.
Let me also say that we've also talked about this being a gathering of the NBA family, in addition to the All-Stars that are here and the participants in last night's and tonight's events, there are lots of other players, active players who choose to be here to be part of the weekend celebration. In fact, there are roughly 120 current NBA players in town here in Toronto for these All-Star festivities.
In addition, there are over 100 retired NBA players here, many of whom are the greatest Legends of the game, people like Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson is here, of course Michael Jordan is here in his capacity as the owner of the Charlotte Hornets and also so the torch can officially be passed to Charlotte, because they'll be the host of the All-Star Game next year. So this continues as an All-Star Weekend, which is the epicenter of basketball throughout the world, and that's very exciting to us.
I also want to note that I think, as you all know, we talk a lot about digital media and social media at the league. We recently passed 1 billion followers on social media for this league, and that 1 billion is comprised of people who choose to follow individual players and teams and the league, and our NBA partners at ESPN and Turner, when they do NBA-related activities and plus all of our international partners. I think it's just an incredible milestone, and it means that people can connect with our weekend and with these events in many ways in addition to watching the game telecast. It just demonstrates how much the world is changing and how the NBA and other sports leagues are able to connect with fans throughout the world. It's something I've also pointed out before, it also changes the significance of market size because as we're seeing that, regardless where a player is playing, they're able to generate enormous followings on a global basis.
Of course the U.S., from a population standpoint, or the U.S. together with Canada is roughly 5% of the global population. So there's a big world out there and they all seem to be following us on social media.
The last thing I want to mention and then I'll open it up to questions, is I want to recognize my good friend Lisa Borders, the new president of the WNBA. She's here in the front row. She hasn't officially started yet. We just announced her new presidency earlier this week. But it was an opportunity for her to be here. There are several current WNBA players here and WNBA Legends, and Lisa and I met with a group of them yesterday to begin talking about the future. Of course this summer will be the 20th anniversary of the founding of the WNBA. We have great plans for the league in the future.
Lisa, welcome, we're thrilled to have you here. And I think for members of the media, I hope you get a chance to say hello to her as well.
Tim, with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.
Q. Is the NBA looking toward India, and is the billion plus eyeballs something to do with the plan for India?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Absolutely, the billion followers of the NBA on social media includes many millions of our fans in India as well. I think as you know we have an office in Mumbai, India, and we even have an owner, Vivek Ranadiv√©, who was born in Mumbai. We have about a 10-person office there that's been open for several years. We have a relationship with the Reliance Foundation to work on grassroots basketball for boys and girls. We have a terrific television arrangement with the Sony Broadcasting Company in India, and we have plans to do even more.
I think social media is the perfect example of the kind of following we can quickly generate in markets where we've never played games and where basketball is not a traditional sport. I think -- I've heard from several of our players who travel to India often with their shoe companies for summer tours and they come back saying I had no idea that so many, especially young people, were familiar with the NBA, knew them firsthand. So I'm sure India is a market that we're going to be spending increasing amounts of time on developing our game.
Q. A number of years back, Major League Baseball made a deal with the two teams in Canada when the Canadian dollar dropped significantly to balance out how the dollar worked. With the Canadian dollar doing what it's doing now and the salary cap going up, are there any plans to look at the same situation with the Toronto Raptors?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: There is no current plans to make any adjustments, but we have a planning committee of our owners that deals with matters like that. Of course it's something that we talk to MLSE about all the time. I should say the issue is complex, because in many cases when it comes to league revenue that's paid to the Raptors, it's paid in U.S. dollars, and they have other expenses, of course, they pay in Canadian dollars. So it's something that we're studying.
The Raptors have not asked for relief from the league, but there have been periods of time historically when the Canadian dollar was at a low point when there have been adjustments made. So we'll continue to look at it. That's the purpose of our planning committee, which also oversees revenue sharing among our teams.
Q. Earlier this week there was a report there may be changes to the Hack-a-Shaq rule for a better title. Could you let us know where that process is and whether change could be enacted this season?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Well, first of all, change will not be enacted this season. But it's an issue that we've been studying for some time now.
As I said, this past summer we had a Competition Committee that met at the end of the season to talk about the so-called Hack-a-Shaq issue, and consider whether we should change or propose changing any rules. At that time the determination was we should continue to monitor it, and the Competition Committee said to the league office, we'd like to see data from an additional season before we're ready to make a recommendation.
So far, up to the All-Star break this season, we're seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five and a half times greater rate than it was used last season. So to the extent that the data is coming in, it's showing there is a clear trend and that clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.
My personal view, as I said last week, is beginning to change on the issue. As I said last summer, I said I was personally on the fence as well. I'm beginning to feel that a change needs to be made. And that comes in response to conversations with our network partners. It comes in response to fan data that we look at, we're constantly surveying our fans to get their sense of what they see out on the floor. I'm talking to players and general managers and our owners of course.
I would say the interesting thing, though, and this is true even among the strongest critics of the so-called Hack-a-Shaq strategy, there doesn't appear to be any clear consensus on what the new rule should be. So I think it's my job right now to at least formulate an alternative together with the Competition Committee to ultimately bring to our Board of Governors.
I should point out that to change a playing rule in the league it requires two-thirds of the owners to vote in favor of it, so it would require 20 teams voting in favor of it. So we're nowhere near that point where we're even starting to count heads. And I think there is a reason when the constitution and bylaws were written of the NBA that those founders decided that it should take two-thirds of teams to change a rule. I think it should be a very deliberate process, you know, and nothing should be done harshly, which is why I'm not in favor of changing the rule mid-season. I don't think it would be fair to change the rule mid-season, and that's why I'm fairly confident nothing will happen until the owners have a chance to consider it in our April meeting, which they will, and then to potentially vote on something at the July meeting.
But it's early days, as I said. We're just beginning to formulate what an alternative would look like, because I think until there is a clear alternative that emerges, it's easy to say I hate the strategy, but it's a much more, I think, difficult issue to decide exactly what the new rule should be.
Q. Does that go for the now en vogue jumping on a player's back on the free-throw line rule?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Well, a slightly different issue. What we've been talking about at the league office, and there was a report about a memo that was recently sent out to the Competition Committee, and that is that as we're watching those instances increase of players deliberately fouling and literally jumping on players, players jumping on other player's backs in order to get the referee's attention, we're very concerned from a safety issue because it is a dangerous move. What we've been discussing with our teams and with our players is making clear that jumping on a player's back could result in a flagrant foul, not just a foul.
We have an owner's meeting here in Toronto tomorrow. We're going to talk about it with our owners. Kiki VanDeWeghe, who is head of our basketball operations, has been talking not just to our Competition Committee but general managers about it and officials, and my sense is we'll be sending out a memo, depending on how the discussion goes next week, just clarifying that. That's not a rule change. And I thought this was a good time to do it while we're in a break.
Games do not begin again until Thursday night. So the teams have an opportunity to meet with their players and make sure that's clearly communicated that everyone is on notice within an official's discretion, they could call flagrant foul for what we view is a potentially dangerous move like that.
Q. With this being Kobe Bryant's last All-Star Game, could you please give us your personal thoughts on Kobe, and what he's meant for the league in regards to the global expansion and how he's helped make this a global game?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Well, I'd say, from a personal standpoint, I've watched his game since the day he came into this league. I don't think there is any doubt that he'll go down as one of the greatest players ever to play this game. I'd say from a global impact, in addition to being a great player, I think because he was raised for much of his childhood in Italy, because he speaks several languages, I think because he was particularly interested in learning about other cultures, I think that he's had almost -- in addition to being a great player, he's punched way above his weight in terms of the impact he's had on the global expansion of the NBA.
I was in China with him for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. That was amazing the number of people he touched. I mean, he made a decision that he wanted to get out and about, the number of events he went to, the amount of time that he takes personally blogging with Chinese companies, directly to Chinese fans that he has a relationship with.
In fact, we had a business conference, we called it a Technology Conference, on Friday morning here in Toronto and Kobe spoke to the audience there, and he talked about sort of how he saw the NBA as a global property, and the fact that because of his own curiosity he had gone -- the way he had gone about talking directly to his fans throughout the world.
I'd say that Kobe, sort of his emergence came about sort of in the beginning of the days of a strong digital media presence of the NBA. That's now been complemented by enormous social media community, and I think Kobe's been at the center of that.
So he will be missed in the league. I know though because I spoke directly to him about this on Friday. I think after he takes a little bit of time to decompress, he's going to be looking for ways to stay directly involved in the game of basketball.
Q. We all noticed you said we haven't crossed an ocean yet for All-Star. Do you have a longer break now? Are you talking about it at all?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: We're always talking about it. It's logistically more difficult than it may seem because there's a ripple effect in terms of the number of days we take off on the rest of the schedule. So right now we play an 82-game schedule in roughly 162 days. When we added the additional time off for All-Star, that took days off. When we added additional days of rest during The Finals days, which we did that season, that took days out of the schedule. If we travel overseas for All-Star, given our experience with largely preseason games, but some regular season games in Europe as well, players will need additional time to readjust their sleep patterns and to get re-acclimated when they come back to the States.
So at the same time, one thing that we're very proud of as a league that we have reduced the number of back-to-backs and reduced the number of four games out of five nights. So the problem is if we leave the country for All-Star, it puts pressure on the rest of the schedule.
Now, having said that, one of the things that we're continuing to talk to the Players Association about is the length of the season, the length of the preseason, when it is we should start the league, when it is that we should ultimately finish and get the draft in.
So having an All-Star Game internationally has to be part of those larger discussions. It's something we'd love to do one day. It's not going to happen in the next two, three, four years, but I think down the road it could be a really exciting element for the NBA.
Q. Some place warm in 2018 then?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Like I said, we love it here in Toronto. The game is indoors. Stop complaining, Brian.
Q. Before considering doing an All-Star Game, would you consider expanding your international games, maybe the ones you do in London and Mexico and other countries?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: The question is would we consider expanding the number of regular season and preseason games we play. Yes, that's something we continue to look at. Again, there's been so much new attention focused on the science around traveling across time zones, the impact of fatigue on our players. We just want to be very careful on how we approach it. I certainly think it's worked very effectively to play regular season games in London, building some time off for the players once they return. I think our preseason schedule has worked out very well in Asia and Europe.
Mexico City is a market that we're particularly focused on, because, again, it does not require obviously crossing time zones in order to play in Mexico City. And the flight to Mexico City, especially from the southwest is not that much different than going to a lot of NBA cities. So I think Mexico City in particular is a market in the short term we'll be looking to do more in.
Q. This now being the fourth All-Star Game where there is no center designation on the ballot, I'm curious to know if you feel that change has been good for the league? And secondly, if that's something you're contemplating for the all-NBA teams as well?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: That's a good question. I'm not sure if it's been good or bad for the league. The change was generated by the fact that it seemed unfair to a certain group of players that there was a special center designation, and in years where were seemingly better players who were front court players but not designated centers that they were unfairly being left off of the All-Star team.
I think there was also a sense that's the game has changed it's not that same traditional position. There was maybe even a little bit of gamesmanship in where a player was designated as a forward or as a center. I think that's something we continue to look at. You know, it's a little bit cyclical in terms of the centers and sort of the emergence of centers.
I'll say one thing, watching the Rising Stars game last night, the rookies and sophomores, I was incredibly impressed with the number of truly great young big men we have in this league. So that's something we want to look at. I would just say generally, in terms of the All-Star process, we talked a little bit about this year the impact of social media campaigns on All-Star balloting, and as I've said before, the internet has been disruptive in every industry. In terms of our All-Star balloting, that's something we need to look at closely. While we love the fan participation and we're big advocates of social media, at the same time, I don't want our All-Stars to be determined based on who has the most clever or active social media campaign for a particular player.
I know it's something Tim Frank, Mike Bass, and our communications department are going to look closely at next season and I'm sure we'll talk to the Players Association about it to find what is the right balance in terms of player designations, keeping fans involved and active on social media, but also ensuring that we have a process together with the coaches' selections where we're truly selecting the 24 -- the 12 best players in the West, and the 12 best players in the East.
Q. With that said, with regard to the all-NBA team selections, first, second and third team, is that something being contemplated or no?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Frankly, I'm not sure right now. It's something that our communications department -- the answer is no. We're not looking at that right now. They would have told me if they were. But I was being careful.
Q. You mentioned the social media impact in erasing market size discrepancy, what evidence have you seen that the Collective Bargaining Agreement has done anything to tighten that up? And then second, with the more competitive Eastern Conference this year, has that cooled the discussion of reseeding playoffs or all 16 in the playoffs?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: I'll take your second question first. I think that we had a fairly robust discussion among our owners last year about the potential to reseed all teams straight through 1 through 16. I said as much as, from a competitive standpoint, there are reasons you'd like to see 1 through 16. On the other side of the coin is the additional travel it would require. You could potentially have Golden State Warriors playing Boston in the first round, and ultimately the decision by the owners was let's let it stand as it is.
Again, we have the traditions of the conference. Also, it would then presumably require playing a completely balanced schedule throughout the league, and of course now we don't. Teams in the West play teams in the West more and vice-versa the East. I don't think there is any active discussion right now about any additional changes in playoff seeding.
In terms of the effectiveness of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, yes, we think there is clear evidence. One, we know that by tightening up the cap and putting in place a harsher tax, we're seeing fewer teams go into the tax because the financial consequences are so great of going high into the tax and what it would mean for their payrolls.
In addition, other changes we made in the system were once teams go into the tax, it dramatically limits what they're able to do in terms of trades and the signing of free agents. So ultimately what that system is about is player distribution. So if you look now at the league, we see the way our stars are distributed throughout the league. You see seemingly no correlation between market size and where the stars are located.
Ultimately our goal from the league standpoint is to have truly a 30-team league where teams are competing based on management, based on either market size or an owner's willingness to lose substantial amounts of money. Is it a perfect system? Absolutely not. Did we get everything we were looking for in collective bargaining last time? No. But we feel it's a fair compromise, and we feel it's working pretty well.
Q. Could the balloon and the cap lead to clustering of stars or maybe increase the discrepancy that you've worked to decrease?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: The answer is I'm not sure. As I've said before, a dramatic increase in the cap, as we're going to see next year, is not something we modeled when we designed this Collective Bargaining Agreement. We'd prefer a system where teams are managing for cap room, and we'd prefer a system in which stars are distributed throughout the league as opposed to congregating in one market. Whether that will happen with all this additional cap room this summer is unclear to me.
Q. Jerry Colangelo is the Chairman of USA Basketball, he's now the Chairman of the Philadelphia 76ers. What checks and balances are in place to guard against conflict of interest? Have you had discussions with Jerry about that?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: First of all, I do not believe Jerry is the Chairman of the Philadelphia 76ers. I believe he's an advisor to ownership there. He is Chairman of USA Basketball.
In fact, when he took on that role with the Philadelphia 76ers, USA Basketball put in place a series of checks so we would ensure that these were committee decisions on the part of USA Basketball to ultimately select the team, as opposed to Jerry on his own making those selections. And Jerry was very agreeable to those changes.
As I said, there has been a track record of team executives being involved with USA Basketball, and of course, Gregg Popovich has already been designated the next coach of USA Basketball. So those are issues we deal with as a league.
Q. Along the lines of JA's question, you have a circumstance now where you could have a team that is the defending champions with three All-Stars, including the reigning MVP, and is on pace to win more than 70 games have the ability to sign a max free agent this summer. Isn't that exactly what you were trying to avoid in the last CBA? Wasn't that the rationale for the lockout itself? And why didn't the league anticipate it? What mechanisms would you say could be put in place to guard against this coming up again?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Well, that was not the rationale for the lockout. I mean, as we talked about a lot, there were several goals we were looking to achieve in collective bargaining last time around, and some we achieved and some we didn't.
But as I said in response to the earlier question, that is not something that we modeled for. The intention wasn't that in this system that teams could sign without going above the tax that many max player contracts and that many All-Stars. So if you ask me from a league standpoint, we would prefer that our All-Stars be distributed around the league rather than having so many All-Stars in one market. But we'll see what happens this summer. I mean, as I've said, there will be unintended consequences from all this additional cap room this summer, I just don't know what those consequences will be.
Q. We've seen a number of teams growing in the D-League, more D-League expansion. What is the roadmap on the D-League? What is the big picture?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Well, in fact, I was out at the D-League All-Star Game today, and it's amazing how much talent is out there on the floor.
So what we've talked about with our owners is the desire to expand relatively quickly and to get ultimately to a 30-team Development League. It will require additional discussions with the players because we talked about the notion of two-way contracts. I mean, it's something that will be dealt with in collective bargaining. But I think part and parcel of expansion is a more direct relationship from NBA teams to D-League teams where potentially rather than just having those players who are under contract with their NBA team then assigned to Development League teams.
We'd also potentially like to see Development League team players where there is some form of contractual arrangement with NBA teams so they have a greater incentive to develop those players under their system.
I mean, it becomes a fairly complex issue. It's something that, without getting into specifics, I'm sure we'll be talking to The Players Association about.
Q. Is the expansion and the growth of the D-League going to change the economics of salaries?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: It could. Again, as I said, that's something we're going to be talking about in collective bargaining, but it's also a marketplace issue as well in terms of there is a global market for great basketball players. As we expand the Development League, we'll be looking to attract more of those players.
Q. When you were talking earlier about the calendar, it seemed like you kind of hit it at maybe a change in the timing of the draft. Is that something that you've discussed with the PA? If so, what would be the potential benefits to maybe moving it back?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: You know, when I was suggesting the changing the time of the draft, first of all, I won't get into specifics of what we talked about with the Players Association, but at least from my standpoint we'd still like to keep the draft in the month of June and not deal with 4th of July weekend and pushing it that much further back. So when I was suggesting about the timing of the draft, I think we may only be talking about a few days. It would still be our desire to finish The Finals and the draft in the month of June.
I will say that maybe some have said that's too traditional a point of view. The notion of primetime television has changed. Even if you look at the number of new programs that are now launched in July as opposed to in the fall, the world has changed a lot. So I'm not saying it's something we won't look at, but at least standing here today, our intention would be to keep the draft in June.
Q. So you don't see any need to move it past free agency and have it be a post-free agency thing then?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: No, I don't think that makes sense.
Q. Going back to the topic of hosting your next international All-Star Game in China -- across the pond?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: I didn't say that.
Q. Do you think it's more likely for it to occur in China or maybe the UK or maybe some other market?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Just to be really honest, I think getting to Asia during an All-Star break would be that much more difficult than traveling to Europe in an All-Star break. I think if we were -- if we do get to the point where we believe we can experiment with playing an All-Star Game outside of the U.S. and Canada, I think in the first instance we probably would not be looking to go to Asia. But thank you for your question.
Q. To follow up, can you elaborate on why you think that's the case? Is it due to culture?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Oh, no. It's absolutely due to the number of additional miles we'd have to travel to get to Asia. That would be the only reason.
Q. I agree, Asia's pretty far, so we'll see where it goes. Pardon me, I really like some of the lines of questioning tonight, so pardon me for the self-serving nature of this one. I know when I talked about Basketball without Borders last year, it rubbed some people the wrong way. So that said, I was just curious if you could talk about Yao making an a appearance today, talking to the guys there and being a presence at All-Star Weekend? Could you tell us a little bit about that war room chat with Dave Shoemaker? How did you guys come up with that being the lunar new year and all?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: I'm sorry, how we came up with having him at All-Star with us?
Q. Yeah, I was curious where that came from, if you guys thought that was a convenient location?
COMMISSIONER SILVER: Well, I could have mentioned Yao in that list of great Legends who have traveled here to Toronto for All-Star Weekend. I'd say Yao is someone that we have an ongoing relationship with. Of course, as you know, he's the owner of the Shanghai Sharks of the CBA in China. We've had ongoing discussions with the CBA in China about working with them on basketball development. I tell you, Yao is here to participate in the festivities.
I mean, you know, I was over in China in October. We were together in Shanghai when the Clippers played the Hornets. We invited him then and he said let me check my schedule and I'd love to be here. Honestly, there wasn't much more to it than that.
I will say now that he's here -- for example, we hosted a Special Olympics game today. Again, just an incredible moment. It was Special Olympics basketball players participating with former NBA players, and there was Yao coaching on the sidelines and motivating those kids. I mean, that's who he is.
And while he's here, you also mentioned Basketball without Borders, he's truly a global basketball icon. Having him here, to me, I mean, his career was cut short, and I think he didn't achieve everything he wanted to the floor, but I have no doubt that over a long life, he's going to end up probably having as great an impact on this game as anyone who has ever played.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports