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February 16, 2019
Charlotte, North Carolina
ADAM SILVER: Thank all of you for being here. I know we have roughly 1,800 members of the media here in Charlotte from around the world, and we really appreciate your support. And those of you who traveled long distances to be here especially. Thank you for that.
Let me begin with a few other thank yous. First of all, to the city of Charlotte, you've been tremendous hosts. Thank you, from the hotels to the restaurants, the police officers, everyone who's assisted us in the community, it's really been a fantastic reception.
To the Hornets team, let me begin, of course, with Michael Jordan, the principal owner of the team. This is something that he wanted to make happen for a long time. It was something that years ago he came and he spoke to his fellow team owners and talked about how important it was to him to bring All-Star to his home state of North Carolina, and, of course, finally we're here.
To Curtis Polk, the alternate governor of the team, who was instrumental in bringing the game here. Thank you to you as well. And a special thank you to Fred Whitfield, the team president, who worked tirelessly over the last several years to make this happen.
Let me then talk a little bit about the bumps in the road it took to bring this game here. Of course, originally, we were scheduled to play the All-Star Game in Charlotte in 2017. After that announcement, a law was passed in North Carolina called HB2, which in the view of the League office and many others, discriminated against the LGBTQ community. We then made a decision that it was inconsistent with the values of this league to play the All-Star Game here under those circumstances.
It was not an economic boycott of North Carolina. Of course, the Charlotte Hornets continued to play here. 29 other NBA teams continue to travel to North Carolina to play. We have a G League team in Greensboro. But we felt that, in terms of a celebratory environment, as we have with our All-Star event, it was not appropriate.
I will say then with strong support from Michael Jordan and Fred Whitfield and others in the organization, they began an effort working with the City and the State to repeal that law, and ultimately, I'd say, in true North Carolina fashion, people came together and ultimately did change that law. For many people, it didn't go far enough, and I'm sympathetic to those who feel that there are still not appropriate protections for the LGBTQ community, but I also felt from a league standpoint it was important, and as part of our core values, to work with people and ultimately to move forward with the community.
And with the strong encouragement of Governor Roy Cooper, who has been a fantastic partner to us in these All-Star efforts, and with Mayor (Vi) Lyles, who we spent significant time with over the last few days, we all came together as a league, and are now here celebrating All-Star North Carolina.
It's also another example, when you look back over the history of sports and in the NBA, where we see the opportunity to use sports to bring people together and focus on important societal issues. It's interesting, I went to college here in North Carolina, Duke University, and I know a little bit about the history of basketball in this state. And something that people may not be aware of, but the first integrated college basketball game in the United States, or certainly the first integrated basketball game that any of us are aware of, took place in Durham in 1944. And that was six years even before the integration of the NBA.
I think, just as we've seen tremendous progress when it comes to race - of course, just look no further than who the owner of this team is right now - we've also seen progress when it comes to bringing people of various nationalities together in this league, to the point now where 25 percent of this league is comprised of players who were born outside of the United States. And I can't think of a single instance, as I travel around this league, where fans are any less devoted to the team because a particular player on that squad was born outside the United States. There's seemingly complete separation when it comes to competition on the floor.
I think another area where there's been key enormous progress in sports is around issues of gender, and I think now in the league it's been a real focus of ours, where we have more women who are serving as officials, more women who are working in a capacity as scouts or assistant coaches and in the front office. And I think there's an opportunity, once again, when it comes to the issue of gender identity, for the league to play a role in bringing people together and demonstrating through our own actions why principles, like tolerance, inclusion, and equality, are critically important to how we operate as a sport and how we should live as a society.
And, again, I don't think this is something unique just to basketball or the NBA. We've seen those principles operating in sports in the United States, certainly for decades, and I'm proud to continue that tradition.
Lastly, let me just say that these All-Star festivities are a true highlight for us. In terms of legends, we have roughly 150 former players who have chosen to come to this community and work with us, whether it's clinics, community service events, activities in the arena, just former players who want to be part of these activities. I don't know the precise number, but we have certainly multiple current NBA players who have chosen to be here during their break, not because they are All-Stars or competing in All-Star Saturday night events, but because they want to be part of the celebration of the game.
We conducted a community service day on Friday where we had 1,500 of our guests work community projects, whether it's packing lunches and meals for people in need in the community, working on refurbishing basketball courts, working on reconstructing homes, and that's become a core part of the All-Star festivities for many of our guests.
Lastly, the most recent estimate I heard is that 150,000 people have come to Charlotte to be part of these All-Star activities, so it's fantastic for the community. And the governor and the mayor have told me that the current estimate is that the economic impact of bringing All-Star to North Carolina will be roughly $100 million. So I think it's just all of those things, it's wonderful that that all can come together around a celebration of the game.
So with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.
Q. You've been asked a lot in recent years about competitive balance, small market versus big market, things of that nature. Obviously, there's still a lot of season left, but Milwaukee has the best record in the league, Denver is right there contending for the West, Sacramento is in a position to get in for the first time in a very long time, for 13 years, I think. Are these signs that competitive balance that you've talked about, that you've wanted, are these just further signs that it's happening, or do you still want to see more growth in that area?
ADAM SILVER: It's a good question, Tim. I'm always wary in this day and age of data and analytics to use too many anecdotes to create greater points, and certainly you can point to teams like Milwaukee, teams like Oklahoma City, what's happening in Denver now and Sacramento, as signs that the system is working better than it has historically. I'd say we still have work to do, though.
I think it, in this day and age, has less to do with small market versus big market. In some cases, it has to do with payrolls. In our cap system, as you well know, it's a tax-based system, which creates penalties, in essence, for going over the salary cap, but you still end up with fairly large disparities in salaries from one market to another. And often that disparity is not based on the size of the market. In certain cases, it's based on revenue generation, which doesn't always perfectly correlate. In some cases, it's based on a willingness of a team to become unprofitable.
So those factors concern me a little bit, in that I think there's still work to be done to create a system where you can create, in essence, more parity of opportunity. I mean, I don't think success necessarily means that a different team wins the championship every year. I mean, I look at the NFL, which among sports leagues, probably has the best parity and the best system in terms of creating competition than any league I'm familiar with, yet the New England Patriots have been in the Super Bowl nine out of the last 18 years. And I don't think anyone points to that as a sign that the system isn't necessarily working. I think what people recognize is you want parity of opportunity, but you don't want to artificially create competition that somehow takes away incentives for teams to be great.
So I think in the case of the NBA, I'm pleased with what I'm seeing, but I know, and certainly many of the people in this room have written, about issues that remain in the league, that you still find situations where teams seem to be uncompetitive. Maybe either by choice, because they think they're better off rebuilding and seeking high draft picks, or they feel that they can't afford, based on other teams being high into the tax, to compete on a level playing field.
So from where we came historically as a league -- remember, this is a league where, if you look at the last, I think, 11 years, we've had seven different teams win championships. But if you look back to the first 60 years of this league, I think three teams - the Lakers, Celtics, and the Bulls - won 60 percent of all championships.
So progress, and I think the issues are fixable, and ultimately, I think the players and their association have the exact same interest as the League does in creating as competitive a system as possible. I mean, think about it. Players shouldn't have an interest in some teams having a competitive advantage over others.
So I think, as we have a terrific relationship with the Players Association now. We have many years to go before we sit back down at the table for collective bargaining, but I strongly believe, that as people who are increasingly sophisticated and get involved in these games and study these systems, incredible people working with the players associations and our teams, that we can still come up with a better system to create more competition.
Q. Concurrent with All-Star festivities is the fifth Global Basketball Without Borders camp. The opening night of the league this year, there were 27 players who were alumni of that camp. Could you speak to the importance of that and the development of the NBA and the international game.
ADAM SILVER: I can. For the league, there's nothing more important than continuing to develop that next generation of players, and I think, if you look back at the league historically, we played more of a passive role when it came to development of players, whether it was through college system or systems that existed in Europe or other parts of the world. Those players were, in essence, presented to us when they are ready for the draft.
I think we're increasingly of the view that we can have more direct involvement in the development of players, and once again, I think it's from learning from other sports internationally, particularly soccer, where players grow up in an academy system and they are developed as professionals at a younger age, recognized as potentially great players. I mean, that's a large pool. Certainly, they don't all become professionals or top-level professionals.
But with the Basketball Without Borders camps or with the academies we've opened in Africa, India, and China, the notion is we can play a much more direct role in the development of players, and if we get to them, boys and girls, at a younger age, we can begin teaching them, not just fundamentals, but the values of this game. Helping them build character around the game, teaching them about their bodies, teaching them the importance of nutrition and sleep and stretching and physical fitness.
And we're seeing success with that. Certainly, you point to the number of players in this league who have come through Basketball Without Borders. We're already seeing some early success with our academy in Africa. And I have this conversation with ministers of sport in countries around the world, I mean, sometimes there's this notion that when's the next great player coming? As opposed to, when are we going to develop the next great player?
Related to your question, I think it's wonderful what we're seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we've made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I'd like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can't dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.
Q. You've had two recent tampering situations, and in addition to that, you recently fined a prominent player for comments made by his agent. Do you feel like you're in the right place as a league, as far as respecting contractual relationships between teams and players? And if not, do you have the sufficient tools to do something that needs to be done?
ADAM SILVER: Again, I try to look at that issue in terms of historical context of this league. You know, trade demands and tampering are two very different topics. I mean, certainly when it comes to tampering, I believe the League has all the tools needed in order to investigate and potentially prosecute, so to speak, a tampering claim. I believe that within our rules the people at the League office who are in charge of those areas do a terrific job. It's not to say that there isn't some conversation that the League office isn't aware of, and I think we draw appropriate lines because nobody who's part of the NBA wants to live in a police state either. So within reason, I think we're doing a good job enforcing our rules.
In terms of trade demands, again, certainly, that's nothing new in this league, and I won't name names, but some of the greatest players in the history of this league have demanded trades at various points in their contract. Having said that, no one likes to see an instance where a player is demanding that he be traded when he still is in the middle of a contractual obligation to a team. It's one of the reasons why, in the most recent case, I fined the player, even though it wasn't the player, but his agent, who demanded that trade.
I recognize that there's very little I'm going to do to ever stop that completely. I think this goes back to the earlier question, though, about the system elements, and I think the question is, can we do a better job creating a league in which the competition is fair for all 30 teams? I do think over time we will do an even better job there. I mean, I will say that every situation is a bit unique, and I think that there's a tendency to sort of quickly decide who's at fault in those situations, and ultimately, as we look at any individual situation as a League office, generally, they're a little bit more complex than people might understand.
But I would just say, blanketly, no, I don't like trade demands, and I wish they didn't come, and I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors. But don't forget, even part of it maybe, the League has to take responsibility. In the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the thought was teams should be able to be in a position to extend a year early, so that a player didn't reach the end of his contract and then a team was then in a position where they were blind-sided and say, well, we had no idea the player wasn't going to stay. And the notion of extending a year earlier is so you could have that conversation with the player, and the player told you behind closed doors, of course, "I'm going to honor my contract, but I don't plan on staying at the end of it." The team would be in a position to get fair value for the player.
Once again, the law of unintended consequences, it hasn't worked as precisely as we had planned. That's another area we have to focus on.
Q. Commissioner, this year you included two legends like Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade on the All-Star rosters, adding them to the roster. I'm wondering if you were involved in the process of making that decision, and if you're going to repeat this decision next year or in the coming years?
ADAM SILVER: It's interesting, the suggestion actually came from a fan in an e-mail to me. I get lots of e-mails as commissioner. People can go to our website and, in essence, e-mail ideas to the commissioner and often complaints. In this case, it was an idea that came from a fan, and I heard it from some others as well. I asked my colleagues in the League office what they thought of it, and I spoke to both Mark Cuban, of course, the principal owner of the Mavericks, and Micky and Nick Arison at the Miami Heat, and asked them what they thought of the idea. Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea, not mine. I was really just sharing it with them.
And that was the genesis of it. I didn't think about it in terms of the next year or whether there will be other opportunities. I think that, as a league, I like to think we have the flexibility, when there are special occasions. And just to speak directly to those two players, I thought it was a very unique situation in which you had two NBA champions, two NBA players who had long, fantastic careers, both of whom had been All-Stars multiple times in their career and both of whom, in the case of Dwyane Wade, had already announced it was going to be his last season. In the case of Dirk Nowitzki, I saw him painfully running up and down the court, and I think it was clear that this was going to be his last season. And it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to honor two greats without taking away an All-Star spot from a player who otherwise was voted from the fans or named by the coaches.
So that was the entire thought process.
Q. Getting back to the trade demand conversation, with the proliferation of player speculation creating the sport into a 12-month-a-year conversation, and that seemingly only growing to help the business, and also the flip side of players like Blake Griffin or DeMar DeRozan being traded when they were in a seemingly stable franchise situation, is there necessarily a problem, and is there a role that the League should take, or is that overstepping its boundaries?
ADAM SILVER: Well, in terms of the role the League should take, I don't want to do something extraordinary in that I'm reaching to some broad power to interfere with the workings of the collective bargaining agreement. I mean, I think those are issues that should be discussed at the table in terms of how the system should work. I think you raise a fair point in terms of it's two-sided. Of course, teams also blind-side players, too, and trade them.
I think the issue ultimately is that, whether it be a team or a player not meeting a contractual obligation, I mean, that's something I think you just don't want to see as a league, even if it's a one-year contract or a five-year contract, that's a commitment the player makes, and that's a commitment the organization makes to that player with a guaranteed contract. I recognize, and I think it's perfectly appropriate, that conversations take place behind closed doors, where players or their agents are saying to management, It's my intention to move on for whatever reasons.
I think, when they make a public spectacle of it, I hear you in terms of the enormous media interest that comes from it, but that's not the kind of media interest we're looking for.
I will say, and it's related to your question, that people have lost sight a little bit of the fact, again, blame the league or not, but two collective bargaining agreements ago in 2010 and '11, we set out to shorten contracts because we wanted to more closely tie pay to performance, and we wanted to give teams a chance to rebuild faster, meaning players wouldn't be locked into contractual situations for too long a period, and we also wanted to give players the flexibility to move on. So the result of that is the latest I've heard from our basketball operations group is that, I believe, 40 percent of our players are going to be free agents this summer.
So it's two sides of the coin. Some people could say, oh, my God, look at all that player movement. On the other hand, that player movement could be very positive for a lot of teams.
So while we certainly are becoming a 52-week-a-year sport, and it's largely the result of tremendous interest in these players, and not just what happens on the floor, but how they choose to live their lives. I think we could do more a better job as a league in avoiding those situations where they get to the point where players are maybe demanding they're be traded or, worst-case scenario, saying, "I'm not going to honor my contract."
Q. I asked you in December whether the new lottery odds were having the desired impact. I think we agreed it was probably a little early. We're now about two-thirds of the way through the season. There are four teams that on pace for 20 wins or fewer. I went back 15 years and then stopped at that point, I couldn't find another where there were four teams with 20 wins or fewer. But a couple with three teams with 20 wins or fewer. It just seems that there's still a lot of discussion. Fans who still are rooting for their teams to lose, teams that are still, I would say, designed not to necessarily be competing at the highest level. Do you have any sense right now of whether the lottery odds are having the desired impact? And if not, is there anything else you would consider?
ADAM SILVER: Howard, my answer is the same as it was in September, to a certain extent. I still think it's a bit early, and let's see what happens, whether certain behavior of teams is rewarded through the lottery. I mean, clearly, in many cases, the odds are not in their favor. I recognize, in terms of playing the analytics, it doesn't mean that the strategy is going to be eliminated completely. As you know, this is the sixth time that we've changed the odds of the draft lottery. I'm pretty sure we acknowledged at the time that we didn't think we'd solve the problem.
And people who are familiar with the operation of other leagues, you understand now why there's relegation, in European soccer, for example, because you pay an enormous price if you're not competitive. I think, again, for the league and for our teams, there's that ongoing challenge of whether we can come up with yet a better system.
I personally don't think it's a winning strategy over the long term to engage in multiple years of rebuilding. I understand genuine rebuilding, when you're trading away, for example, or not re-signing a star player who you believe is now in the downward slide of his career, and you think you're better off going young and invariably getting a high draft pick. I think that this issue may be solved, to a certain extent, in the marketplace of ideas, depending on how this now goes over the next year or two and seeing what the results are and seeing what the results are of some of these long-term rebuilding programs. But I'm certainly not here to say we solved the problem.
I will say, though, that while you point out those four teams, we have many more competitive teams this year than we've had any time in the recent past of teams that are competing hard, competing for spots in the playoffs, and great competition on the floor. So I think we've made progress, and we've seen this in other sports as well, there's a mindset that, if you're going to be bad, you might as well be really bad. I believe, personally, that's corrosive for those organizations, putting aside my personal view of what the impact it has on the league overall. But, again, we'll see how this plays out.
Q. Can you talk about the impact the Curry family has made on and off the court this weekend? And also, if you could, speak to the settlement that Reid and Kaepernick received.
ADAM SILVER: On Reid and Kaepernick, it's interesting. I assume those players or their representatives made a decision to keep the settlement confidential. I was a little bit surprised by that, just because there's been so much focus on the issue. So I know no more than anyone sitting in this room about the settlement. I'd say generally I'm glad, as usually a settlement suggests that both sides were satisfied with the outcome. So to the extent that the NFL and those two players have reached somewhat of an amicable settlement, I think that's positive for everyone. I'm happy for the NFL, and I'm happy for those players that they're in a position where they can now move on.
I don't really have a sense of what that means now for Colin Kaepernick. I don't know if it means he's going to be playing in the NFL or playing in one of these new upstart leagues. Again, I have no idea information on that.
In terms of the Curry family, I think the impact is yet to be known. Obviously, we'll see what happens. You have two Curry brothers competing in the Three-Point Contest tonight, and Steph, of course, in the All-Star Game. I'd say up till now seemingly there's been a Curry representative in just about every community event I've been to. For people who don't know, of course, Steph Curry grew up in the Charlotte market. Dell played here and continues to be a television commentator in this market. I've known Dell, of course, since he was a player. Incredibly fond of the family. They seem to be the first family of Charlotte, at least this week.
I have to say, on behalf of the league, we're really appreciative of the entire family's commitment to working with us on numerous and countless events in the community. I just hope that the Currys have energy left for the basketball.
Q. Just a followup to Rick's question as well as Dave's, when players make trade demands with an increasingly long horizon to when they'll actually be a free agent - in Anthony Davis' case, almost 18 months away. Aside from your objection to that on a contractual basis, is it potentially destructive to the competitive balance of your league? And if you feel it is, how could those small-market teams be insulated against the impact of it?
ADAM SILVER: Once again, I'm not so sure it's a small market-big market problem. Again, I'm not even sure where the line is anymore on big markets. As I said earlier, if you look at the success of the so-called big markets in the last five years, they've been an all-time low in terms of their success on the floor. I think last season was the first season on record where the Lakers, Knicks and the Bulls didn't make the playoffs, that we didn't have the traditional big market teams even playing in the playoffs. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Last season was the only season in which the Lakers, Knicks, Bulls, Nets and Clippers all played and none made the playoffs.]
Where if you look back at the records of the Lakers, the Knicks, the Bulls over the last five years, they've been in the bottom half of the league certainly in competition on the floor. And then you tell me where you draw the line on big market-small market. And as the question suggested earlier, I think you can have enormous success in a small market, success that we never saw historically in this league.
So putting aside big market-small market, whether an early trade demand has an impact on competitive balance, I'm not sure. I think we've got to continue to look at this issue. One way to look at it is 18 months, to me, it's not exactly how I see it because I think everyone recognized in the case of the Pelicans that the pivotal time was this summer based on our new system. And either he was going to make a commitment to the organization or they were going to likely trade him. I think the difference is you don't want to see that play out publicly, and here there was a trade demand, and it is. It creates, understandably, a very awkward position between the team and their player and what their role is with the league in terms of injecting itself in the middle of what a team's decision on playing that player. These become very context-specific issues for the League office and not subject to computer programs that spit out answers.
But, again, back to my earlier responses, I don't want to be overly defensive here because I don't want to defend the system as smoothly operating. I believe it's an area where we can do better. It's something we have to sit down with the Players Association, but I ultimately have confidence that, again, these are not endemic problems to the league. These, to me, are very fixable issues that, if you have a Players Association that is sitting down with us and saying, how can we create the best competition that creates the best system among 30 teams, we can come up with a better way of proceeding.
Q. Next week is the one-year mark from when the improprieties surfaced in the Mavericks organization, and I know that you visited the franchise a couple weeks ago. How would you assess what progress has been made in the last year? And also, where do things stand in Mark Cuban's pledge to donate $2 million to women's organizations?
ADAM SILVER: In terms of Mark Cuban's page, Kathy Behrens, our president of social responsibility, has been working closely with Mark, and Cynthia Marshall, the president of the team, and I know they're on plan. They are reviewing the organization, which Mark is making a commitment to. As you mentioned, I was just in Dallas. I got a report directly from Cynthia and from Kathy. Mark is absolutely meeting his commitment and has told me he's doing far more beyond that. That is his personal decision and not something he's seeking any publicity around, so I won't talk more about that.
In terms of progress at the team, again, I think what was no doubt a horrific situation, I think that there are a lot of positives, if you can say that, or a silver lining has come out of it. I had the opportunity to speak to virtually every employee of the team through a series of meetings over the course of a full day I was there. And I spoke to some employees individually, and I spoke to them as a group, and, again, we also have hotlines in place and anonymous ways of reporting issues. At least what was reported directly to me and through the organization is that it was a complete sea change in culture on the business side with the Mavericks, that Cynthia Marshall was getting the highest possible grades, along with the new senior management team that she had brought in.
I think many employees, longtime employees there, felt somewhat liberated. While some felt still, honestly, a bit scarred, that they felt everything was being done to address those issues, and they thought systems, most importantly, had been put in place at the Mavericks to ensure that they don't end up ever again in a situation like that.
And just add to the silver lining, something I talked about last year, I think it was eye opening for the League office, in terms of us putting in place league-wide programs to ensure that nothing like that can happen again. But also 29 other teams went back and reassessed everything they were doing, and to the extent they didn't have state-of-the-art programs themselves, have also ensured that they have.
Q. Mr. Commissioner, I think it's fair to say that the NBA is one of the more media-friendly leagues around. This room is sort of a testament to that. What's your perspective now on the growing trend of players using the NBA as a platform to grow not only in business but as major players in media and entertainment?
ADAM SILVER: I think it's fantastic that the players have these opportunities, and I think, one, it's great for them personally that more business opportunities come from it. But now maybe speaking for selfishly on behalf of the league, I think what causes fans globally to become even more engaged with these incredible players is when they see them as the truly multi-dimensional people they are.
While the media plays an incredibly valuable role and complements everything we do, I think, whether it's the league, teams or the players' ability to speak directly to the fans is also really important. And I think there are situations now with players where they might not have been as comfortable going through the media or responding to a question or just want to share aspects of their lives directly with fans, and in some cases it's social or political issues, in other areas it's music, it's fashion, it's culture.
But I think even for me, as a fan of this sport and others, or a fan of music and other business leaders in society, I find that, when I learn more about them and I find those connections, it makes me more engaged in what they do and makes me more interested.
So it's been really positive, and I think it's all brought us together, too, this whole ecosystem around digital media and business opportunities for our players.
And finally, it's made, I think, for the league, it's created better conversations because I've always said, it's not just now having Michael Jordan as a team owner or Grant Hill in Atlanta or David Robinson in San Antonio, I mean, I think that helps give the players a different perspective when they see, okay, maybe I actually will be sitting on the other side of the table one day. But even if they're never going to own an NBA team, but they're just a business owner or small business owner, I think it leads to more healthy conversations when I can sit with a player and say, well, this is how we see it as a bit. These are the investments we need to make. This is what a fair return is in terms of investments. This is the risks that owners are taking in building new buildings.
I just think it leads to healthier conversation when's they also are operating as businessmen themselves.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports