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February 17, 2018
Los Angeles, California
THE MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for coming to the Commissioner's press conference here on All-Star Saturday night. As mentioned earlier, the Commissioner will open with some comments and we'll be glad to take your questions. Adam?
ADAM SILVER: Thank you, Tim, and I apologize for getting a late start. Let me begin with a few thank yous, first of all to the city of Los Angeles for being fantastic hosts and more specifically to Jeanie Buss, of course the governor of the L.A. Lakers and to Steve Ballmer from the Clippers and really their entire organizations.
It's unique to be in a city where we have two teams, in essence, act as co-hosts, in addition, AEG, which of course operates the Staples Center, helps us put on all the events here. So appreciate and thank them as well.
Of course we have a new format for the All-Star Game this year, and let me thank Chris Paul, in particular. I'm sorry he's not here to participate in it, because it was a little bit of his baby, but I know I talked about it last year, that coming out of the All-Star Game Chris and I had a discussion, he as president of the Players Association, and said we know we can put on a better performance for our fans.
It ultimately ended up in a meeting with Michael Jordan who, in addition to, of course, being the governor of the Charlotte Hornets is the chairman of our labor relations committee. So Michael, together with Chris, with Michele Roberts and I and some other folks from the Players Association and the league, relatively quickly came up with this new format.
We'll see how successful it is, but I think it's already been met with a fair amount of enthusiasm from, of course, our team captains who then went about picking teams.
Again, it's something new we're trying, but there's been a fair amount of chatter about it on social media as well, and the players seem to have embraced it. So I'm particularly thankful to the Players Association for their willingness to sit down with us and try something new so quickly.
In terms of what we are focused on as a league, technology continues to be a major focus of the league office. I was at the Recode conference in Huntington Beach earlier this week out in Los Angeles. I participated in a forum with a company called Magic Leap, which is looking for new ways to bring our games to fans. In their case, it's a concept called mixed reality, it's not virtual reality, it's not augmented reality, but in essence it's a new way of looking at our players and the game, that, in essence, can bring it to our fans throughout the world.
We recognize that we can't scale our arenas; that our arenas are practically full everywhere, and certainly the courtside seats. The challenge for this league is how can we then bring that experience to our well over a billion fans around the world who will never get a chance to see a game in person. So technology and creating a more immersive experience for fans is something that we spend a lot of time on at the league office.
And in social media as well. We now have a social media community globally estimated at roughly 1.4 billion, which is quite remarkable. And those are people who are engaging in some way with our players or our teams or the league office or with their local broadcaster on events around the game.
In addition, this past season when it comes to televising our games, digital media and mobile devices have really changed the game in that using all of those various devices last year, roughly 1 out of 7 people on the planet, a little over a billion people, watched some portion of an NBA game.
As we continue to be more of a global game, of course, 25% of the players in the league right now are from outside the United States, and interest just continues to grow.
So for us it's a challenge a bit in terms of how we can use this technology to bring the game to those fans who we know aren't going to come to our arenas. I'd say I love being out here in Los Angeles and sort of in Northern California where there is so much focus on the use of technology. When I think back on sort of even -- we have an event every Friday of All-Star week that we call our Technology Summit, and if you look back on the course of just these roughly 18 years and think that it's still -- the iPhone is only roughly ten years old, and some of the most valuable corporations in the world didn't even exist when we sort of began this theme of focusing on technology and start to get a sense of the amount of disruption there is around media.
I'm frankly, incredibly optimistic about what's happening in the marketplace and new and different ways we're going to have to bring our game to fans.
Another one of our focuses right now at the league office is on youth basketball, and we're spending a lot of time on that. I think there is a big opportunity, I think, to, once again, on a global basis, focus on elite players in terms of better training, better fitness, so that they ultimately can be successful at the highest level.
Whether that be in college or in the NBA or, frankly, leagues around the world, but also for the larger group of young players, boys and girls, who will never play at a high level, but who will accomplish enormous things through the playing of sport. Whether it's learning valuable, important values about life, things like respect and teamwork and hard work and discipline, all those great values that come with this game.
That is something from a league standpoint, together with our teams, we're putting an enormous amount of energy and resources into. We've opened up academies in China, in Africa, in India, focused on those elite players. Then using our Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA programs we're working with local governments throughout the world, again, to get kids just participating in sports.
Lastly, just in terms of a general media trend, something else we talked about on Friday, when you look back roughly 18 years ago when we first started doing these Technology Summits around All-Star, at that time 13 out of the top 100 rated television shows in the United States were live sports. This past year it was 81 out of the top 100 rated programs were live sports.
So as you can see, the marketplace is being drawn to premium televised sports, and so the notion that there's a downturn, I think, in the business generally is just wrong. What we're seeing over time is that we have even additional bidders, and as these new media companies come into sports, they're realizing how difficult it is from an original programming standpoint to create hits, but there is consistency in going with live sports and especially premium sports, knowing that they're going to deliver a certain rating.
So we're also excited about those opportunities that come through those new entrants in the market in the United States and also globally as well.
With that, I'm happy to answer any questions you have.
Q. When it comes to the one-and-done rule, what are the state of those discussions right now? What ideas have emerged as possible solutions, and what kind of time line do you envision of changing that rule?
ADAM SILVER: So in terms of one-and-done, I think there is a lot going on. One, that there is a commission that Mark Emmert and the NCAA appointed led by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. So that commission that includes college presidents, college athletic directors, some former NBA players is taking an overall look at the issue. And we realize that the whole issue of the one-and-done is that we don't operate in isolation, and where we choose to set with our Players Association, the minimum age has a direct impact on college basketball as well.
So, in part, we've been having discussions with Condoleezza Rice's commission, so as I understand it, they're looking to issue some recommendations in the spring. So we'll be interested to see where they come out on that.
In terms of the NBA, we're conflicted, to be honest. We're outside of our cycle of collective bargaining right now which is when we generally address an issue like that. But Michele Roberts and I have also agreed there is no reason we shouldn't at least be discussing it right now.
So we've had some meetings with the Players Association where we've shared data on success rates of young players coming into the league. We've talked a lot about youth development in terms of whether we should be getting involved in some of these young players even earlier than when they come into college.
And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we've had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.
On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they're 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.
Just the last thing I'll throw in there as another factor, and I hear this from players in our league all the time, is that don't forget the vets. It's not just in terms of minutes on the floor, but they play an important role in mentoring young players as well, even for some of the veterans who may never have much playing time in terms of games, they're important to be in the locker room. They're important during practice time.
So that's something we have to look at, too, whether by -- if we shifted our minimum age from 19 to 18, we'd be bringing the whole league younger, because the jobs have to come from somewhere.
So we're not by any means rushing through this. I think this is a case where, actually, outside of the cycle of collective bargaining, we can spend more time on it with the Players Association, talking to the individual players, talking to the executive board and really trying to understand the pros and cons of potentially moving the age limit.
Q. Today a small number of players and referees met to talk about their working relationship and take ideas back to their groups. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the issues that led them to this point, and how active or passive a role should the league take in sort of bridging any gaps?
ADAM SILVER: Well, the latter part of your question first, I think the league, of course, should be playing a very active role in bridging that gap between players and officials. We've put in place several new initiatives, including a new management team overseeing our officiating program. Michelle Johnson, relatively new hire, who oversees our referee training. She was the former superintendent of the Air Force Academy, incredibly credentialed woman who happened to be an All-American basketball player herself at the Air Force Academy and has a distinguished career. She's been brought in, in essence, as a management expert to help us work on improving our overall officiating program.
We just took Monty McCutchen off the floor, who was our number one rated official. And I realize some people could view that as a step back. But the notion was over time we'd be getting more out of Monty to the extent he was responsible for the direct training of our officials and not just as an official on the floor.
So we're playing a very active role. On top of that, we started a program about a month ago where mid-season we used to only do this preseason, we're sending groups of officials out to meet directly with our teams so they can have open forums to talk about issues like respect and empathy, and create a better understanding with the players in terms of what the officials' roles are, and officials may better understand how players may misperceive things they're doing.
In terms of the meeting that took place this morning, I don't know a lot about it in terms of what happened today because I haven't talked to any of the participants. But I read the press release they put out. I was pleased to see, again, they focused on the themes of respect and empathy.
I'd also say I think it's fantastic and a great statement about this league that these important stakeholders in this case, our players and the officials, think it's important enough and they have an obligation to the game where they should be sitting down and talking to each other. Because at the end of the day, I mean, as I've said before, I've never thought this was just about ratcheting up fines. I think that there's a larger issue in play here, and almost one that's a little societal in we owe it to young fans who are watching, we owe it to young people who get enormous satisfaction out of sports to see that we truly can get along and be respectful and empathetic.
The fact that these two groups want to sit down with each other and say how can we both do a better job, how can we create a better understanding is fantastic.
Q. Any thoughts on how everybody got to this point where there was the friction?
ADAM SILVER: Well, number one, I'd say in terms of the data we keep in the league office, this point to me doesn't seem that different than points we've been at in prior years. If you recall, you've been covering the league a long time, I think it was roughly eight years ago or so we adopted these respect for the game rules precisely because everyone said at that point things were a little bit out of control and there was a lot of frustration.
We adopted those rules. I think after we did it, some people felt it was a little bit of an overreaction; that we were turning the players almost into robots. And of course they needed to show a certain amount of emotion on the floor and a certain amount of emotion was appropriate and wasn't disrespectful of referees. As we said a little bit there, we may have slid a little bit back to old practices. At least in terms of the number of technicals called, the number of fouls called, the things we look at at the league office. There is nothing that aberrational going on right now.
But I accept to the extent there is a perception right now that there is an issue, we want to use that as an opportunity. The fact that we have players and referees sitting down and talking about these issues, as I said, can only improve things.
Q. Adam, you recently leveed, or at least the league did, a fine against Magic Johnson for tampering. It was a comment where he was complimentary to a player on another team. I'm curious as to where that line is, because in recent days or weeks I've heard comments from other organizations just saying a nice thing about somebody's player, often it's coaches when we ask pre-game or post-game, what do you think about this player? How does that work? You have some coaches that are executives, like a Tom Thibodeau that holds a dual role. Where's that line, and how do you set it?
ADAM SILVER: It's a fair question, and there is not always a simple bright line. One, I'd say as I've said before, context is everything. It's one thing when you're asking a coach a question about an opposing team right after a game. It's another issue when a general manager or president of basketball sort of gratuitously issues a statement that is complimentary of a star player on another team.
I think in the case of Magic Johnson, he and I talked about this on Friday, we certainly understand each other. That may be because there was an issue with the Lakers over the summer that there might be a higher bar at this moment for Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
In essence, what we've said to him, and it's a clear message to other team executives, is that stop talking about star players on other teams. There are plenty of other issues they can address. And there is sensitivity around it throughout the league.
But I'd say it's something we talk to our team executives about. It's not that I can say here's the simple rule. I think it's a little bit you know it when you see it, and in this case ultimately I'll take responsibility for it. We thought in context of things that have gone on this year, in that case Magic had crossed the line.
Q. You guys moved away from the East versus West format this year for the game itself, at least just for this year. But have you had any serious discussions about the prospects of potentially moving away from East-West even in the selection process and going with the best 24 for the All-Star Game?
ADAM SILVER: I actually thought you were going to ask a different question, which goes to whether we've had serious discussions about playoff format and whether we should actually be moving to the best 16 teams.
Q. You can answer both, if you want.
ADAM SILVER: No, because in terms of the All-Star Game itself, it would require a lot of changes. Again, it really is related to how we schedule the games. Because we don't play a balanced schedule, there has always been this notion that because it's unbalanced the teams in the East are playing more than the teams in the West, and even in the way All-Stars are selected. You have the fan vote and then you have the coaches vote. That coaches in that conference, because they're seeing those players more often, should have more say in terms of who becomes an All-Star.
So your logic is right. It could follow that we should be taking a look at the top 24 players in the league as opposed to doing East versus West. But then it takes me to where I thought you were going, which is when we get to the playoffs should we be taking either the best 16 teams or even if we go eight from the West, eight from the East, seeding 1 through 16 going into the playoffs?
And that is something that's gotten serious attention, not just recently, but over the last few years at the league office. I think, as I've said in the past, the obstacle is travel, and it's not tradition in my mind, at least. It's that as we've added an extra week to the regular season, as we've tried to reduce the number of back-to-backs, that we are concerned about teams crisscrossing the country in the first round, for example. We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams.
Having said that, you also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in The Finals, and obviously, if it's the top team in the East and top team in the West, I'm not saying this is the case this year, but you could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the Conference Finals or somewhere else.
So we're going to continue to look at that. It's still my hope that we're going to figure out ways. Maybe ultimately you have to add even more days to the season to spread it out a little bit more to deal with the travel. Maybe air travel will get better. All things we'll keep looking at.
Q. In the past you've been very supportive of Sacramento's prospects of getting an All-Star Game and new arena and whatnot. Two questions. How realistic is the Sacramento bid for '22 to '23, and has the development with the hotels that have been added, is that enough to mitigate your concerns about accommodations for the number of people that would come into the city?
ADAM SILVER: So I'm still a big fan of Northern California or of Sacramento getting an All-Star Game. I haven't seen their bid yet, but the ultimate issue, as we've discussed in the past, is whether there are adequate hotel rooms in the Sacramento area to host an All-Star. You get a sense from even just the media in this room, it's become an enormous event and people come in from all around the world.
To me, Sacramento and the surrounding communities provide a tremendous opportunity for an All-Star. Wine country, great golf, great scenery, all kinds of wonderful things that I think people would love to visit around an All-Star. But at the end of the day, we have to have a sufficient number of hotel rooms.
I know there are additional hotels that are online, in essence, in Sacramento. So I know when their bid comes in, that's something we'll review. So it's hopeful we get there at some point. I know Vivek Ranadive, the principal governor from Sacramento, has been a huge advocate of getting an All-Star Game there. He's talked to me about it several times. He's an innovator, and he said: We're going to figure this out. And I'm sure he will.
Q. The use of cruise ships in the port there, do you have any problem with that?
ADAM SILVER: It's something Vivek has raised that with us. I have no issue with it. It's not clear that that would solve the problem. But people have been around our teams, for example, with USA Basketball and Olympics. We've often used cruise ships to house guests and players, and it's worked out pretty well.
Q. Since a 1% fee on the handle of sports books could amount to a 15 to 20% levee on their revenues and threaten the viability of their business model, how receptive is the league in negotiating with those books in tying the proposal to revenues instead of the overall handle?
ADAM SILVER: So I'm not sure if your math is right, but let me just say that we've been asked by multiple jurisdictions for our point of view on how sports betting legislation should work, and right now there are roughly 20 States that are actively considering sports betting bills in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning PASPA.
We created in our mind what a model bill should look like. What was included, to your point, in that model bill is a 1% fee, call it integrity fee, call it a royalty to the league.
I would only say from the NBA's standpoint we will spend this year roughly $7.5 billion creating this content, creating these games. Those are total expenses for the season. So this notion that as the intellectual property creators that we should receive a 1% fee seems very fair to me.
Having said that, it's what our view of a model bill was. We were happy to sit with legislators and look at the economics and talk about what is the best system? I will say what will come with legalized sports betting are enormous additional expenses for the league that go directly to integrity. Our ability to monitor that data, our ability to flag problem issues, trends around the league, enforcement, additional training.
So, again, we've never suggested that this is the only way to look at it. In fact, the 1% came directly from other jurisdictions outside the United States that used that very fee as the model for how leagues or content creators should be compensated for the use of their intellectual property.
But to the extent that we sit down and there are other ways and better ways to reach a fair result, we're happy to have those discussions.
Q. State of the G League, where are we at in terms of expansion? Do you see 30 teams a lot closer than maybe we were two years ago?
ADAM SILVER: I do. One, it is closer in terms of the numbers. Next year we'll have 27 teams in our G League, and I think we're going to quickly move to a 30-team league. One of the things we've talked about in the last few years was this notion of two-way contracts. They've now begun this year. It's working very well.
I was out, for example, at the Lakers practice facility today, and their G League team also plays at their practice facility and trains in their practice facility. We're seeing enormous movement between the G League and the NBA. I think roughly 40% of the players in the NBA right now have played some certain number of games in the G League.
I think all those things are working. I think our teams are seeing it as a training opportunity. We're seeing it as a development opportunity that connects back to some of the Jr. NBA issues I talked about and addressed before.
And also Jeff's question about one-and-done, I think as well, how the G League plays into that is still something that we haven't determined. But we're very pleased with the direction this league is going in.
Q. Kevin Durant and LeBron James and others had very strong comments to the "shut up and dribble" comments that came from FOX News. What is the league's responsibility and how can they continue to get rid of the narrative that they're just dumb jocks, and specifically in LeBron's case, that he's an African-American athlete that isn't intelligent enough to talk about social issues and should just shut up and entertain people?
ADAM SILVER: Well, let me begin by saying I'm incredibly proud of our players for using the platform they have as players in the NBA and on social media to speak out on issues that are important to them. And I was proud of LeBron and Kevin's response to the comments that were made about them.
I think even when I hear it even related to the one-and-done issue when people say that the one-and-done players shouldn't be in college because they don't care about an education I think is incredibly unfair to them. Just because they have enormous opportunity in the way maybe Bill Gates did or Mark Zuckerberg to create enormous wealth for themselves and their families certainly doesn't mean they don't care about an education. Many of them go on to continue to educate themselves, whether through going back to school in the summer, taking courses, doing things post-playing career. So it frustrates me.
I should also say it's not lost on me or anybody in this room that there is enormous amount of racial tension in this country, enormous amount of social injustice, and I do see a role for this league in addressing those issues.
Essentially, I know everybody can see, but Bill Russell happens to be sitting here at this press conference, and your question sort of reminds me of the role that players like Bill Russell have played historically in speaking out on important issues.
It's interesting. Here we are in L.A., and, Bill, you probably remember this, but the first All-Star Game that took place in Los Angeles was in 1963. You were the MVP, and then of course the Celtics went on to win a championship that year. But maybe even more importantly, then, in the summer of 1963 you stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. King gave his "I have a dream" speech.
So to me there is this direct through-line from players like Bill Russell, here it was roughly 55 years ago, to LeBron and Kevin Durant speaking out today on issues that are important to them.
So as I've said before, to me as Commissioner of the NBA, this is a legacy of important work that I've inherited, that I continue to encourage, and it doesn't mean I necessarily agree with everything that's said at any given moment, but the fact that these players are not just basketball players, they're multi-dimensional, they care about their communities, and they care about what's happening in their country. They then care enough to speak out, and sometimes at great risk to themselves because it's not lost on them that there are some people who will disagree with them. Social media is full of hate as well.
So I just conclude by saying I'm really proud of them.
Q. You spoke earlier about the NBA opening its academy in India a few years ago. Could you tell us how the NBA views basketball talent and how to groom talent in India? Are you also confident that India will get its first proper NBA star in a few years?
ADAM SILVER: I don't want to make predictions in terms of when exactly an Indian player will come into the league, but I know there is no magic around it. It's the result of, as I said earlier, about our junior programs, it's about hard work, it's about discipline. It's about appropriate training techniques. It's about passion.
And one of the things we're learning around the world is there is an enormous amount of basketball being played, even in India. It's such a large country, obviously, over a billion people, that there is a significant amount of basketball being played.
But unless at a young age you have access to proper training, proper facilities, have access to competition so you can size yourself up against other great players and have a sense of what's needed in order to improve your game, that we won't produce Indian players just leaving things the way they are.
So we made a decision that it's worth the investment for the league to have an academy in India, to take the existing infrastructure with the Indian Basketball Association, with FIBA, of young people who are playing the game, trying to bring them together, bring over coaches from the NBA, other retired players who have a fascination in some cases with the Indian market and some who just want to help train and develop players and work together in the communities there.
We have an excellent relationship with the Reliance Foundation and with other corporate partners in India. We have an office in Mumbai, and one of the things we're looking at, which we hope to do relatively soon, is bring a preseason game to India. A little is dependent on the arena infrastructure, but we've heard some good news from the market in terms of Delhi and Mumbai about plans of new arenas. So that's something I've we're hopeful to do. Back to my friend Vivek Ranadive, the principal governor of the Sacramento Kings, and he was born in Mumbai. In addition to constantly reminding me about getting an All-Star Game in Sacramento, he says, We really want to play in India. So it's something that I have a feeling we'll get done in the next few years.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports