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May 30, 2019
MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement.
ADAM SILVER: Thank you, Tim, and thank you all for being here. Congratulations of course to the Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. This is a homecoming of sorts for basketball in Canada. Of course Dr. Naismith was Canadian, from the province of Ontario, and then made his move at some point to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he invented the game of basketball as a winter sport to keep at the time young men occupied because it was too cold for outside activities.
Then of course, in Canada the first ever NBA game took place here in Toronto about a mile away at the Maple Leaf Garden. Ironically known as the "Cathedral of Hockey," and that arena is still essentially in place roughly a mile from where we're standing today. Basketball then, at least NBA basketball, ceased about a year later after that opening game when the Huskies played the Knicks and then came back to Toronto 50 years later, I would say thanks to David Stern and of course the commissioner and John Bitove, who was a gutsy entrepreneur, and electing to invest his money and time together with his partners in believing in basketball and the NBA.
A few years later Larry Tanenbaum became the principal owner of the Raptors, and he was later joined by Bell and Rogers as his partner in the team. So as I said, this is truly a homecoming that here we are all these years later with our first Finals game ever outside the United States and for the first time here in Canada. So we're thrilled to be part of it.
And just to add a few more words on the vision of Dr. Naismith, his vision extended not just to physical activity but he was a Christian missionary, and for him it was mind and body. It's interesting it's in essence come full circle because here we are in 2019, and have become particularly focused on the mind aspect as well, and that is the mental wellness of all our players and the young people, boys and girls, who are learning to play this game and learning about physical fitness and health and wellness.
We also owe Dr. Naismith a lot in terms of his vision for global popularity, because shortly after he invented the game in 1891, he and other Christian missionaries brought the game overseas and brought the game to China, throughout Asia and to European. It's why in 1936 basketball became an Olympic sport, and in essence the rest is history. And here we are today with very much a global sport, one of the most popular sports in the world, and 25 percent of the NBA is comprised of players who were born outside the United States, and probably not coincidentally because we placed a team here in Canada, that the second country after the United States in terms of nationality for players is Canada. And we have I think 13 players at the moment from Canada who play in the NBA. If you look at the two teams I think there are seven players, two rosters together, who were born outside of the United States, so roughly 25 percent of these two rosters, which is consistent with the ratio for the overall league.
So I am absolutely thrilled to be here in Toronto to start our Finals. I think we have had really a fantastic playoffs, some of the best competition we have seen in a long time. Once again I appreciate all of you being here. So happy to answer any questions.
Q. Getting back to that global popularity, you have Masai Ujiri and his ties to Nigeria, Serge Ibaka and Republic of Congo, Pascal Siakam from Cameroon, Amadou Gallo Fall is named Basketball Africa League president. Is that where you see the next great growth of the game, on that continent, and can you speak to Canada's impact and Masai's impact on that plan?
ADAM SILVER: So we have, I believe, four players on these two rosters who were either born in Africa, to your point, or had a parent that was born in Africa. And of course you have Masai Ujiri, who was born and grew up in Nigeria. So I think it absolutely speaks to the opportunity across the roughly 55 countries of Africa.
I think it's one of the places we're looking in the world where we see enormous opportunity. Certainly China as well. We're opening with games in Mumbai, India for the first time next season, but in Africa we have elected to launch a league, which we'll be starting in March of 2020, with 12 clubs. The format will be more like a champions league, so sort of the best of Africa playing in club competition. But we see enormous opportunity.
I think ultimately it's because of transformational nature of digital media where in Africa, a continent of over a billion people, where there are something like 700 million cell phones, 400 million of which are smart phones, so it's been revolutionary in terms of the people of Africa's ability to watch our games in realtime on handheld devices. So we see enormous growth opportunities both in terms of players and for participation and ultimately an interest for the league.
Q. You mentioned China in answering his question, these are unique political times, obviously. There is a tariff situation going on right now, the World Cup is, what, three months away, the Lakers and the Nets are going to China again, as the NBA's gone for a long time. How concerned right now is the NBA about the state of politics with regard to the U.S./China relations, particularly the tariff issue, knowing that the league does so much business to an and from there?
ADAM SILVER: We have been in constant touch with the Chinese Basketball Association, and I've talked to Yao Ming directly about it. I am not concerned at this time. Of course we are not immune from global politics, so it's something we're paying a lot of attention to. I look though to sports, and this is something Yao and I have discussed, where we can use basketball maybe in the way ping-pong was used in the days of Richard Nixon, that there could be something called basketball diplomacy, and it is an area where our two countries have excellent history of cooperation, where we work closely with the Chinese Basketball Association on player development, referee development. We have talked a lot to Yao, Mark Tatum and I have about the rules, the Constitution that underlies his league and how to create greater competition.
So I think with the World Cup of Basketball coming to China in September, with our continuing to play pre-season games there, with the attention on our Finals right now, I see it as an opportunity, again, to demonstrate to people that through sports there's commonality and we can use the values of sports hopefully as a positive force to continue to bring people together.
Q. It's almost a continuation of that question, just in terms of what more can be done in terms of bringing more popularity to the game, expanding the game in China. How important is that? And is there an update at all on potential of a regular season game in China in the future?
ADAM SILVER: What I believe we can do more of is work directly with the Chinese Basketball Association and again, that's something that I've talked a lot to Yao about. In fact, for our Summer League in Las Vegas, the Chinese National Team for the first time will be participating. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The Chinese National Team competed at the 2007 NBA Summer League.] I think that's an important sign.
Also, we are in the process of building academies in China to help develop the young players there. Again, I think because of Yao's experience in the NBA, he sees how it's done, not just in the United States but in other places in the world, and I think he understands that given the enormous number of young people, boys and girls, playing basketball there's more that we can be doing to develop elite players.
In terms of overall popularity, we have a terrific media relationship with Tencent, Alibaba has a highlight message relationship with us, and of course one of the co-founders of Alibaba recently bought into the Brooklyn Nets and is on a path to be the controlling owner there. Joe Tsai has joined our board of NBA China. He's made a lot of really great recommendations to us about what else we can be doing in China from both from a media standpoint and from a participatory standpoint. So I think we're although we're incredibly popular in China, there's a lot more we can be doing.
Q. You have two franchises in the Clippers and Knicks that are involved in a pretty nasty lawsuit over an arena project. Is there anything the NBA can do to help iron that out and what's just sort of your general impression of the Clippers' project?
ADAM SILVER: I have talked to Jim Dolan and Steve Ballmer about that lawsuit. Obviously it's not something you like to see between partners in the NBA. I don't think there's a role for the League at the moment, but it's something that we're paying a lot of attention to, and there may be an opportunity at some point for us to help create some sort of reconciliation, but right now it's existing sort of outside of NBA governance.
Sorry, the second part of your question?
Q. The general, your general impression of the Clippers trying to build a new arena in Los Angeles and having two arenas in that market?
ADAM SILVER: In terms of building another arena, I'm very supportive of Steve Ballmer. I mean, putting aside location for a second, they are probably third or fourth on the list of tenants currently at Staples. I mean, that's just a function of their lease. Everybody understands that. I think from a league standpoint, if you had both teams in the playoffs, plus a successful hockey team there, it becomes very difficult for us for scheduling purposes.
So in terms of the overall marketplace and the concert marketplace, I can't speak to that, but maybe purely out of self-interest for the NBA, it would be helpful to have another arena in town.
Q. You talked a lot about the possibility of creating a mid-season tournament of some kind. Do you have any sense of where you're at with the Players Association in terms of coming to an agreement on that and do you sense any interest on their part in doing so?
ADAM SILVER: I think it's much too early to have a real sense of where we are the with Players Association only because we're in the early planning process of investigating whether there really is an opportunity.
To your point, it would need to be negotiated with the Players Association, I've had very general discussions with Michele Roberts about the notion that these are the kinds of things we're looking at. I think she, of course, is supportive of looking at any ideas we have to build the business over time. But there's nothing concrete that we have brought to the Players Association and said, you know, "Is this something you'll support?"
Q. As you know Canada's traditionally a hockey country, love hockey from the start, however things have changed a little bit this year, and I think most of the Canadians have been watching the NBA Finals instead of the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time ever I think. How does that affect the way you and the NBA do business, especially north of the border?
ADAM SILVER: You know, I don't think about hockey, per se. I mean, I'm a fan. Gary Bettman worked at the NBA years ago when I first started, and so we're generally supportive of other sports. And the way we look at sort of NBA or our programming is that we're competing against everything else on every other channel, every other form of entertainment. So we don't necessarily focus on where hockey stands vis-a-vis the NBA. So I'm paying attention to the Stanley Cup.
So I think it's a big country, Canada. There's plenty of opportunity. We have learned in the United States even though right now we're not the most popular, at least measured by television ratings, we are very strong business. So there's room for lots of competitors. And actually I think it's good for everyone when sports continue to do well.
Q. I have a question about Dan Gilbert and the Cavs: The family asked for privacy with his health situation but from a league perspective, are you at all concerned in his ability going forward to carry on?
ADAM SILVER: I'm not concerned about his ability going forward. I of course am concerned with his present condition. I mean, I don't know a lot more but obviously it's public knowledge that he has a medical condition. So our thoughts and prayers are with Dan and his family, and we're just wishing that he has a complete recovery, and I have no reason to believe he won't.
Q. Given the surge around this team and the way the kind of whole country kind of seems energized, at what point would there be any consideration to a proposal for another team in Vancouver, Montreal perhaps, or generally an expansion?
ADAM SILVER: My answer is, you know, and it's the same as it's been for other U.S. cities that have expressed interest, and that is that we are just not in expansion mode at the time. I mean, we're flattered that some other Canadian cities have expressed interest, as some other U.S. cities have, but again nothing new and I've said this before, that we, meaning the NBA collectively, all our team owners, are very focused on creating the best possible competition among the 30 teams. And I'm sure inevitably at some point we'll turn back to expansion, but it's not on the agenda at this time.
Q. Is there one thing that would sort of get you into expansion mode? Like what would be the criteria you're examining?
ADAM SILVER: At the end of the day from a league standpoint you're in essence selling equity in your overall league, and you're selling a portion of the growth opportunity outside of that market. You're selling the growth opportunity in Africa, and I think what we would be looking at is whether if we're expanding, not necessarily the short-term benefit of an expansion fee, but is it additive over the long-term? Is that franchise adding something to the footprint of the league that the 30 current teams don't? So that's in essence would be the analysis.
Q. There's been a lot of conversation about fan conduct. For the most part with something like the Drake situation it's more entertainment, but throughout the year there were several situations where players were fined and fans were banned from arenas. Is there something that the League can do to make sure that the players are feeling safe and in a good environment and that the fans feel like they still can be active and heckling but within reason?
ADAM SILVER: What I think we can do is refocus our efforts, as we have this year, on appropriate conduct for fans. And making sure that there's a clear code of conduct that's communicated to fans, that it's consistently enforced in every NBA arena and that we're creating a safe environment, of course for the players and all the other fans as well. And as I said, we have redoubled our efforts. We have had lots of conversations directly with the Players Association, the players, because absolutely we want them to feel that they're in a safe environment and we don't want them to be distracted during the game or think that they have to take matters into their own hand.
I actually think especially not just looking at this year but over my tenure in the league, things have gotten much, much better in arena than they were in the old days, but there's always room for improvement.
Q. Kind of going on Robert's point, curious to what you thought about what happened in Utah with Russell Westbrook, and you guys let the Jazz handle it. Did you think about jumping in and getting more involved perhaps publicly with that? And is there anything that the League could do from not just a safety standpoint but even from a racism standpoint where things that people say that cross the line can't be tolerated?
ADAM SILVER: Well, to the latter part of your question, I think there's always more we can do, and I think standards in society have changed in terms of what's appropriate for people to say. As I've said before, I think there is a legitimate expectation that you buy your ticket, you go into an arena, I'm only searching for the right word, call it heckle, that people would say, yes, you're allowed to yell and scream when a guy's on the free-throw line or whatever else. But then there's something else that we call it hate speech which is clearly impermissible. And I think the issue is, you know, if we just made a list, we know we wouldn't capture everything, and there's some aspect of you know it when you see it, and there's also some words that otherwise aren't incendiary, it's the way they're said or if they're said in a threatening manner.
And so we spend a lot of time talking to security people, ushers in arenas, and a lot of our arenas or most arenas now they even put up text hotlines so that a fellow fan can communicate to the arena if somebody next to them is bothersome. So I think, as I said, there's more we can do but we're very focused on it.
In terms of Utah, you know, I did not see a need to step in, only because we have such tremendous confidence in the Miller family, and Gail Miller as the principal owner, I thought by her taking the court prior to the following game, speaking directly to the people in that community and saying, "This does not represent our community," I think that was much more powerful than me issuing a statement from all the way across country in the New York. And again I think they handled it very well.
I did speak directly to that team, to the entire team. I wanted to make sure they were satisfied with the way it was handled. They seemed to be satisfied, as well.
So again, I mean these are incredibly unfortunate incidents, but I also want to send a clear message to those small, tiny minority of fans who might engage in that sort of conduct that it absolutely won't be tolerated, and also that we're going to catch you because in every one of our arenas now not only are there, you know, numerous, high-definition cameras pointed at stands so we're going to see it, but also there's 18,000 fellow spectators who are holding high-definition cameras in their hands. So there aren't many incidents now when a player points something out and says somebody did something, where we're not going to be able to get tape and see exactly what happened and ban that fan from the arena, if necessary.
Q. Do you talk to the players or did you talk to the team?
ADAM SILVER: I spoke directly to the players on that team, as a team.
Q. What did you tell them?
ADAM SILVER: I told them that, that I appreciated the way that they had handled it and that it was not going to be tolerated in the NBA, and that we also appreciated the way they had come together with management and ownership of that team. I felt their response was spot on.
Q. Earlier in the post-season coaches and players discussed some concerns they had with the fact that seven technicals over the course of the post-season leads to a suspension. Is that something the League has thought about changing, whether it's resetting it after every round or are you content with the way that rule works right now?
ADAM SILVER: I'm content with where we are right now. Our Competition Committee is always looking at issues like that. You can see why we wanted to have strong disincentives for recidivists. And I understand when you get into that critical game multi-rounds in, that all of a sudden it's like, oh my God, look at the impact that that technical or flagrant is now having on that player's ability to remain on the floor.
But we do believe you need strong disincentives and one of the things that we looked at is that since we've adopted those rules, we think that those new rules have been effective in reducing that sort of behavior on the floor. So if there's a less dire way of creating the same results, of course we would be interested, and that's the sort of thing that can Kiki VanDeWeghe and the Competition Committee, when the season is over, sit down, do the analysis, look at the data. Players participate in the Competition Committee as well, and we think about whether there's another way to do it.
Q. A couple questions stemming -- I know you discussed this at All-Star Break with regard to the situation that happened with the Dallas Mavericks. But what also stemmed from that was a broader overview of the rest of the teams in the league. Can you say confidently that the other organizations in the NBA are essentially what we saw in Dallas and that corrosive atmosphere, can you confidently tell the fan base that what happened in Dallas is really not happening with the other organizations in the league? And just a quick yes or no, if Mark Cuban has completely paid the 10 million dollars that he had pledged to donate to women's groups?
ADAM SILVER: In terms of my level of confidence, it's high. We put in place several procedures post that incident in Dallas, and that includes regular direct reporting from the teams, confidential hotlines, analyses in conjunction with the league office on the hiring practices of each team. So you can never have absolute certainty, but I believe that if there was another situation like that it would have come to our attention.
In terms of the 10 million dollars, the last I looked, and my information may be a little bit old, he had donated five million of the ten million so far, and was working with the league office on his plan for contributing the additional five million. I'll just add that in our discussions with Mark, he's not including sort of other donations he's making, probably in terms of his pool of money that he's been donating to similar causes outside of sort of the league 10 million, he's over the 10 million. But he's been completely cooperative, I mean it's Kathy Behrens from the league office has been working directly with Cynthia Marshall on targeting particular groups and ensuring that the money is appropriately spent. So I feel very good about from a compliance standpoint that Mark has done everything we could have asked of him.
Q. A quick follow-up: On the specific 10 million though, that was -- given his amount of wealth, do you think that at this point that he should have paid it off by now?
ADAM SILVER: No, again as I said, he's given plenty of money to other organizations as well, and it's being done in a sort of a thorough way of vetting each group and considerations. So not at all, and I think that giving away money should be done in a serious manner and in a deliberate manner, and so not at all. I think our only understanding with Mark is that there would be a process for doing it and there is, and we have been working directly with him.
Q. Getting back to the fans, what was it about Drake's fandom that caught the NBA's radar?
ADAM SILVER: As I said before, I mean, everything is a bit context specific. I think in the case of Drake, as I've said before, I mean we certainly appreciate his superfan status, and I know he's beloved in the community of Toronto. I think certainly we don't want fans, friend or foe, contacting an NBA coach during a game. I think that even as Nick Nurse later said, I didn't even realize it was Drake or hardly was aware that I was being touched, and I think those can lead to dangerous situations. You're in the middle of coaching a game and you're completely focused, you obviously don't want somebody who is not on your team touching you.
We understood that in this case, given Drake's relationship to the team, it's not the same as just any fan who happened to be courtside touching a coach. But I think that's an absolute bright line that we have to draw. So that's one example and I would also say that I think the issue for the League is that he has this ambassador-type role with the team. So he is viewed a little differently than any fan sitting there. But at the same time I think there are appropriate lines that shouldn't be cross in terms of how a competing team is addressed or the officials for that matter.
As I said, you know, the league office had conversations directly with Drake and his manager and I think we ended up in a good place.
Q. Back with international, how much of a bigger boon is this Finals for the league from an international perspective than perhaps most people realize?
ADAM SILVER: Interesting question, I'm not sure. I think symbolically having our first Finals outside the United States maybe has a big impact on countries that follow the NBA but don't have teams, whether that be in Asia or whether that be in Latin America. So I think as we look back in time at the NBA calendar, I mean, this clearly is a marker of sorts that here we are 2019, you know, our Game 1 of the Finals taking place in Toronto, Canada. That will, I think, be a milestone. As I said, it's come full circle in terms of basketball being invented by a Canadian.
So I think it also demonstrates that by, this goes to the question before about what we look at for expansion, that I think the fact that we expanded to Canada has had a direct impact on the level of interest in this country. More so than just if people were watching our games on television or through some other form of media. And I think it's why, as I said, second to the United States, we have the most players from Canada than any other country.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, Adam, and thank you all for being here.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports