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February 15, 2020
ADAM SILVER: Thank you all for being here. First of all, let me thank the Reinsdorfs, Jerry and Michael. I think Jerry pledged he wasn't going to have another All-Star Game here and Michael convinced him. At least he tells me now he's thrilled that we're here.
I happened to be here in Chicago the last time the All-Star Game took place here, which was 32 years ago in 1988. I was a law student at the University of Chicago in my third year and managed to secure tickets for All-Star Saturday and the game itself, and had an incredible experience, and I never would have connected the dots back then to think I would then spend a few years later, begin working at the NBA in 1992 and then spend the next however many years that is, work 28 years working at the league, let alone being commissioner, but I'm sure that it had an impact on me because I remember being thrilled to be part of the activities here.
I remember Michael Jordan taking off from the line, that Slam Dunk Contest. I remember the game, and I had a great experience here in the city of Chicago, so I'm thrilled to be back.
A few other thank yous, first of all, to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She happened to be in law school with me at that time at the University of Chicago. I don't think she was here, I haven't asked her that, for either All-Star Saturday night or Sunday. And Mayor Lightfoot and I did have that discussion. I think, if somebody had done a poll while we were in law school and said, out of the students in our class, let's create a list of who's most likely to be mayor of Chicago and commissioner of the NBA, I'm not sure we would have made those listed. Just the serendipity of life, here we are.
I also want to thank former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He did have a lot to do with bringing the All-Star Game here. He is a very convincing person. I know he had several conversations with both the Reinsdorfs and with me, and he was very insistent that we announce that the All-Star Game was going to come here while he was still mayor. So thank you to Mayor Emanuel as well.
Before we get going, there are two people I'd like to talk about, two giants of the game that we've lost in the last several weeks, and I'll begin with David Stern. When I came to the NBA in 1992, my first job was as the special assistant to Commissioner Stern. I then had a series of jobs, five different jobs at the NBA, before I became commissioner, and over those 22 years, I was fortunate to always have the privilege to work directly for David Stern.
I would just say he became not only my mentor but an incredibly close friend. He was there when I got married. He was one of the first people to hug my daughter when she was born. I remain very close to his wife Dianne and his two children, Andrew and Eric, and it's a huge loss certainly for the league.
He was a force of nature for those who got to work for him. At the time -- I know it's storied, but when he came to the league, first as the general counsel in the late '70s and as the commissioner in 1984, it was a time when our Finals were still on tape delay. As I said, he had a vision for what this league could become, and that league involved it being a major factor in the sports world. He had a belief that this league can be truly global.
He embraced technology when it came along. He saw how the Internet could transform this business. He saw how satellite distribution could bring us live to 215 countries around the world, which is where we are today, and I'd say for many of us in this league, it's been a difficult time because, not only had we all worked for him for so long, but we remained close to him over the last several years, since I've been commissioner.
And we had a large memorial for him in New York City, which over 4,000 people attended, and just -- you know, from Magic Johnson to Coach Pat Riley to Val Ackerman talking about the creation of the WNBA. Rick Welts, the president of the Warriors, who talked about the creation, actually this weekend, the events around All-Star Weekend. Kathy Behrens my colleague here, talking about coming to the NBA to create NBA Cares with David. It was truly -- he was a transformational figure, but that event, I think, was an important coming together of the family.
As I said, not only will he be missed, but he's somebody that will sort of remain in our hearts and minds for a long time, and we will continue to talk at the league about the proper way to honor him over time.
There is the credential, people at home don't have one of these, but the media who are all here today, this is the NBA media credential. This happens to be my credential, but at the bottom we have a picture of David and Kobe Bryant, so everybody can have them in their hearts while they're here.
And now speaking of Kobe Bryant, I was at the league for the entire course of his career, and he and David, interestingly, had a lot in common. They were both determined to win. They could be difficult at times because they prioritized winning, and often, they didn't have time for some of the niceties around personal relationships because it was about winning, at least while Kobe was a player. Here was someone who set the record for 18 consecutive All-Stars and four All-Star MVPs and a famous slam Dunk Contest on top of that.
He also was transformational in that, when he came to the league, it was essentially right after the advent of the Internet, shortly after we had launched NBA.com and were sort of in the early stages of creating our own network, and he saw the opportunity. I mean, he was a global citizen in that he came to the league having spent a significant part of his childhood in Italy, but he didn't just speak Italian, he spoke Spanish. Luka Doncic told me recently that he was being trash-talked courtside at a Lakers game earlier in the season. He looked over, and there was Kobe in Slovenian trash-talking him with his wonderful daughter Gigi by his side.
And Kobe, in his post-playing career, we got to be particularly close. In fact, when we were in Los Angeles two years ago, there's this tech conference we've been doing for 20 years now at All-Star Games. Kobe spoke about his love of storytelling and a reminder to all of us in the business how important it is to tell those stories to bring these players to life and to help people understand the game. Then two weeks after that presentation at our technology summit, he actually won an Academy Award for story-telling, for his short on Dear Basketball, animated short.
His loss, together with his daughter and those other seven people on the helicopter, is unspeakable. As the father of a child, I mean, that's the unimaginable. Again, we are honoring Kobe and his daughter in the All-Star Game. As you all know, we changed the jersey numbers, 24 for Kobe and 2 for his daughter Gigi. I'd say that's something that the players embraced. This generation of players, so many of them grew up with Kobe as their role model as a player, as a competitor, and he loved the game, and he stayed close to these guys. It's been amazing to me, you know, in a sort of similar way that David found a way to connect to so many people, Kobe connected to so many of this current generation of player, and by connected, I mean they all have stories where he was breaking down film with them. He was talking to them about the belief in winning - that extra drive, that inner beast he called it, that was necessary to truly be a champion.
But what I also saw in Kobe, and you saw a little bit of this in David in his post in the period after he was commissioner, that aspect of their personality was a bit contrived in that they push people because they wanted them to be their very best, and recognizing that it meant at times people might not like them, but that's what it was about, that competition is about winning.
So it was fun to get to see a different part of David. I know a lot of my colleagues are here today, and we saw that in him, that when he was no longer our boss, it was a different relationship, and it was much more avuncular, and he was rooting for us.
Again, I just say I certainly would not be standing here today but for David Stern, and the NBA wouldn't be where it is today but for Kobe. So, again, may they both rest in peace, and very much appreciate this greater NBA family taking the time to honor them. The outreach that we've heard literally from millions of people around the world on their behalf.
There is one additional special honor for Kobe: We are now announcing - people are probably wondering what this object is next to me - that we are renaming our All-Star MVP trophy the Kobe Bryant MVP Award. This trophy will be presented at the conclusion of tomorrow night's All-Star Game, and I know it will be especially meaningful to that player that wins the first Kobe Bryant MVP. So I'm sure there will be other honors as well, and as I mentioned, there are other things that we will be discussing with our board, the NBA board, when they meet in April to honor David. But this one seems so appropriate here at All-Star because nobody embodied All-Star more than Kobe Bryant.
Lastly, I'll touch on a few things and then answer any questions. What's so remarkable about our All-Star festivities is that for these several days this becomes the epicenter of basketball around the world, and certainly what better market to do that in than Chicago, which has such a great basketball tradition. Our games will be distributed in 215 countries and territories, including China. Our broadcasting partner Tencent will be distributing all the All-Star events.
Unfortunately, many of our partners in China, including many media members, who have been covering us for years, were unable to attend in Chicago this week because of travel restrictions around the coronavirus.
Again, so to the people of China, we wish you all the best in dealing with these tragic circumstances and encourage you to stay strong and hope that you can find some solace through sort of sports and the things that we're doing at the NBA. In addition, our offices in China are working hand in hand with world health organizations on relief efforts around coronavirus.
With that, I'm happy to answer any questions you have.
Q. Adam, can you take us through kind of when you first heard about the helicopter crash on Sunday through the decision to not play that game Tuesday in Los Angeles and the considerations and the emotions watching the on-court tributes and troubles other people around the league were having in that time period?
ADAM SILVER: To the best of my recollection, the first I heard that the helicopter had gone down and that it likely included Kobe and Gianna was from Mike Bass, the head of NBA communications, who had just learned from a member of the Laker organization. This was not long after it happened. It certainly wasn't public yet. Frankly, Mike is sitting here in the front row, I don't mind saying Mike had trouble getting the words out on the phone. He was choked up in telling me.
At that moment, we have a process for dealing with situations like this at the League Office that involves a group, as you might imagine, people in our senior management, together with our security group, trying to assess situations to try to get the best information. So we, in essence, through the head of our security named Jerome Pickett, this process, where we all came together for a conference call, working with the Lakers to get the best information we could.
The immediate issue was whether games were going to be played that night on Sunday night. Through our operation center in Secaucus, New Jersey, we have a live look into every one of our arenas, and we realized that people were already assembling for some of the games that were scheduled. People were already in arenas, and there still had not been confirmation that -- again, that Kobe and Gigi had lost their lives. So it didn't feel appropriate to us that we should be canceling our events and acknowledging something that was not official yet.
We were in touch with the family indirectly, and I think also, certainly in that moment, they were not prepared to acknowledge something that had not clearly happened. So we did speak to all of our teams - Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner, Byron Spruell, Rick Buchanan, others, Kathy Behrens. We then talked to those teams and dividing up those teams and telling them we understood that, if there were particular players who felt they were just not up to playing that night, that certainly that was beyond okay and that also, with all apologies to the media, that if players did not feel up to meeting their usual media obligations, we understood that as well.
We also then prepared a tribute and a moment of silence, assuming that the information was true, that we could then work with our teams to make sure that those casualties were appropriately recognized in our arenas before games. So that was Sunday night.
At that moment, there really wasn't much thought at all about Tuesday. Certainly, I had a schedule in front of me, and I could see that the Lakers were next scheduled to play at home on Tuesday. I think then discussions were ongoing with Jeanie Buss, the principal owner of the Lakers, and Rob Pelinka, about the state of mind of the team and what the best way was to proceed.
I think at that moment on Sunday night, I would not say at that moment we knew we were going to end up canceling Tuesday. I think this was a process where we were going to be in ongoing discussions, and I will say, for people who have been around the league for a long time know that it's fairly extraordinary to cancel a game for all kinds of reasons. It's not necessarily economic reasons. It's just for competitive reasons. We have a schedule. How will you deal with that game? When will it get rescheduled? What other impacts will that have? In many cases, it's not even clear that the players themselves want to cancel the game.
I will say, one thing I left out on early Sunday, Chris Paul is the president of the Players Association and was also a close friend of Kobe's. So Chris was one of the first people to call me, and after I had talked to Mike Bass, and also he had trouble getting the words out on the phone, but he wanted to know what I knew. We talked, too, about his sense of whether we should be canceling games Sunday, and we both agreed that, if anything, a sense that the people wanted to come together and be with each other.
Then for Tuesday, ultimately, I would say I thought the appropriate thing was to be very deferential to the Lakers. It so happened they were scheduled to play the Clippers on that Tuesday night. We did reach out to Steve Ballmer and Lawrence Frank. Not necessarily that we were looking to them to approve the canceling of it, but we did want to know their point of view. I will say the Clippers organization said, "Whatever everyone thinks is appropriate here. This is so far more important than that one game or that competition". So the Clippers, in essence, said, "You have our proxy to do whatever you think is appropriate."
Ultimately, the decision was -- I have to say, on behalf of the players, it was not the players necessarily saying they weren't up to playing on Tuesday, and there were a lot of people who said, "Kobe would want you to play. Kobe was the greatest competitor." I think there was also a sense that the first time there was going to be a Laker game, that there was going to be a coming together, intense coming together of Laker fans, Kobe fans, and how was this going to be handled? So I think there was sort of the issue of the game itself, but then what was that experience going to be like in the arena?
And I think given, when we looked at the schedule and saw that then the next home game was Friday night, we all collectively decided with the Lakers and the Clippers that that made the most sense.
Q. Adam, what is the current status of the league's relationship with China?
ADAM SILVER: The status of our relationship, I mean, in terms of the country China, I would say we retain our strong relationship with our fans. As I've said before, I very much believe in what I would call these people-to-people exchanges, and that is a cultural exchange of the distribution of NBA games in China, and we know from interest in NBA digitally and from the games that are being streamed there, I think it was recently reported, the ratings are about where they were last season.
Having said that, our games have not returned to CCTV, the government broadcaster. My sense is they will at some point in the future. We are not pressing them. It's a decision that's outside of certainly our control, and I will say I'm often not even sure exactly where that decision lies. I think that our view as the league is we should continue doing the things that we've done in the past.
We have had a relationship in China for 40 years now, dating back to 1979 when the then Washington Bullets played there. And when it came to the coronavirus, I would say we thought for a moment, should we be doing the things we've always done around disasters in the world, the kinds of humanitarian relief efforts that we've been involved in in China, Africa, India, United States? And we thought, my God, like in terms of what we stand for, we should continue to do -- this should be business as usual.
So I think that -- well, I know that, from the data we look at, there continues to be enormous interest for the NBA in China, and my sense is that there will be a return to normalcy fairly soon, but I can't say exactly when, when it comes to CCTV.
Q. Adam, a follow-up on Tim's question: You were on record as saying that the financial consequences were fairly dramatic. What are the projected financial losses that may have an impact on the salary cap? And do you plan on playing preseason games in China next season?
ADAM SILVER: In terms of the precise numbers, it's still a little bit uncertain. As you know, we lowered our cap projection slightly. Part of that was attributed to reduced revenue in China. Part of it was due to the normal variations in business projections. So I don't know yet where we'll ultimately come out.
I think part has to do with what happens over the remainder of this season. So much of the value of NBA broadcast, for example, are back-loaded in the playoffs. So we don't quite know yet where that will come out.
The second part of your question was?
Q. Playing preseason games in China.
ADAM SILVER: So there were two sets of games that may be potentially played in China. There have been discussions about pre-Olympic games. So this would be USA basketball playing in China. So there are ongoing discussions there, and there also are ongoing discussions about whether we will return for preseason games next year.
I will say that it has been the case in the past that in years where we're playing internationally, sometimes in that same market with pre-Olympic games, when it's the USA team, because those are all NBA players when it comes to the USA team, that we may not do both. It may be the case that, if we play pre-Olympic games with USA basketball in China, we then may decide not to play preseason games this coming season.
But, again, those are issues that haven't been decided yet.
Q. Adam, I just want to ask you what are your expectations for the Basketball Africa League? And when you have three starters from that continent, what does it say about the potential pipeline of talent coming from there?
ADAM SILVER: Thanks for asking. So we are launching our Basketball Africa League with 12 teams on March 13th in Senegal. I would say we're hugely excited about that. There's been a lot of discussion around that this weekend. In fact, we had a luncheon today devoted to announcing the early markets and showing the new uniforms. I'd say I'm personally very excited about it, that you think about the growth of sort of the interest from Africa in the league over the years, that's sort of the modern history back to 1984 - Hakeem Olajuwon being drafted until today, where it's hard to imagine but 40 players either born in Africa or one of their parents were born in Africa. So we have tremendous talent coming from the continent, as well as tremendous interest.
So it's a market where the league has spent a lot of time over the years. It's actually the tenth anniversary of when we opened our office in Johannesburg, and we see great opportunity. I think this is just yet another area where, back to what I was talking about, Kobe and him being at the advent of the Internet, this is sort of the really truly transformational nature of digital media, where now you have in Africa an estimated 700 million cell phones, and I think the last I looked, 450 million or so of those phones are smartphones. So you now have the ability of people throughout Africa to stream our games.
So we think there's enormous interest in the NBA, and part of growing this interest in basketball, we think you do need games in market on the ground. So what's being described as a league is, I think, by sort of U.S. sports parlance, could also be called a tournament because we're taking 12 existing club teams and, in essence, sort of Champions League like, where that's called a league, it's really a tournament of existing teams, and scheduling competition, together with our partners FIBA, over the course of several months.
I'm enormously excited about it. Again, I think it will serve as stand-alone programming, but will also serve as a pipeline into the NBA as well.
Q. To go back to China for a moment, what are the additional complexities now that there's large sections of the government that are shut down or completely pivoted because of the virus? How much is that slowing or hindering the process of getting things back on track the way you would want them?
ADAM SILVER: Tim, it's partly why I said I'm unsure right now because there has been a huge diversion of resources, as you might imagine, to coronavirus relief, and it's moved to the top of virtually everyone's agenda. I mean, particularly in the Wuhan province. As I said, I think it's the same for the NBA, it's almost hard for us to be having conversations about the broadcasting of games when there's a major national, if not global, health crisis happening.
So the answer is I just don't know sort of next steps in terms of the process. We've had lines of communication open for a long time with counterparts in China, and as I said, I think there's a mutual interest in returning to normalcy in terms of the distribution of our games.
I will say I had mentioned earlier that a lot of the Chinese journalists and Chinese partners couldn't be here because of travel restrictions, but there are many Chinese journalists who are here because they are based in the United States and covering these games this weekend.
So I think from the NBA standpoint, our view is we should continue doing things as we always have. We believe that, as I said, through the power of sports, that we can continue to bring people together and focus on important issues, in this case, including the relief efforts around coronavirus, and the appropriate people will make the decisions when they will, but I just accept that it's outside of our control.
Q. Adam, on the subject of schedule reform and, in particular, the midseason tournament, would you say that that package of changes is dead, dormant? Where does it fall in there? Could you outline just why it will no longer be voted on at the April Board of Governors.
ADAM SILVER: Sure. None of the above in terms of dead or dormant. Where I see those discussions -- and I've shifted slightly from calling the midseason tournament the in-season tournament because it's not sure exactly where it will fall in the season, but I would say actually, when we went to our teams, the Players Association, and our media partners, probably the most important constituents in making changes, the response we got was that, frankly, there was so much interest that they didn't think it made sense to do it as a one-off, and I may have been a little naive in thinking that for the 75th anniversary, we could say let's make all these changes. We'll sort of see what happens in the 75th anniversary, and we'll go from there.
I think the sense of virtually all the groups that I spoke to is that these are significant changes. We should fully vet them and deliberate them, but then when it comes time to make them, we should make them. In part, because we're not going to know enough from one season. All the discussion about what will happen in an in-season tournament, for example, you could get lucky by particular circumstances or unlucky because of the particular matchups, and I would be stepping back saying that -- I'm the one saying that I believe we can create new traditions, and I think it's fairly clear it's hard to use a data set of one season to say we believe in a new tradition or not.
So what we're now doing is having further conversations with the players, Players Association, our teams and media partners, and saying what are the appropriate changes we should be making?
I strongly believe we will end up with some sort of in-season tournament and a play-in tournament, but let's refocus on all the component parts and do something with the intention that those will be changes we'll make going forward. It doesn't mean forever, but it may mean that we could end up changing course at some point if we don't think it's working the way we believe it will, but that seemed to be the consensus.
So to me, it's less about a vote because the very people who are voting are the people we're working with on precisely what the right format is we should be looking at.
And I'll just add to that, I think it also gives us a chance to look more holistically at the season. This issue has come up a lot related to load management, appropriate resting of players. Is 82 games the right number of games in a season? As I've said before, that's been in place for over 50 years now. The game has changed. We know more about health and physical fitness. Or even if we're playing the same number of games, should they be played over more days to provide for more rest? So those are all things we're looking at and trying to -- but the end result, and I can't say exactly when it will be, I think, is a re-presented regular season in the league.
Q. What has the League's involvement been in the ongoing Altitude/Comcast dispute, which has left the majority of Denver unable to watch the Nuggets? And what obligation do owners have, if any, to ensure the games are broadcast as widely and locally to their fans?
ADAM SILVER: The League's involvement has been to helpful to both sides. Bill Koenig, head of NBA Media, he's had extensive conversations with all the relevant parties and trying to work towards a solution.
I think, in terms of an owners' obligation, ultimately, all of our obligations are to the fans. I think that's absolutely clear. Having said that, that isn't necessarily the answer to the question as to what the terms should be of distributing those games going forward, and I think this relates really to some of the other questions I've been asked, that there's a lot happening right now transformationally in the media market, and I think that the RSNs are sort of resetting in terms of their business models. I think the teams are rethinking what the best ways are to distribute our games to reach the most number of fans.
So I think it's a bad situation for everyone, and I'm incredibly sympathetic to those fans that live in Colorado and are unable to get those games. Stan Kroenke and Josh Kroenke are here in Chicago. I've had a chance to talk to them. I know they're extraordinarily frustrated as well. I think, coming out of All-Star, certainly Bill Koenig and others in the League Office will be redoubling their efforts to try to find a path forward here.
Q. Two questions. First, a follow-up, again, on China: In the heat of the controversy, we were talking about maybe the NBA losing a billion dollars, billions of dollars because of the amount of business. I know you said you don't know how much you've lost from this, but is it a billion-dollar loss? I mean, can you characterize it that way?
ADAM SILVER: Certainly, those were never numbers that were coming from league sources. Much less. The losses -- I mean, we don't have nearly that kind of revenue in any given season. I think that the magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Certainly, probably less than $400 million, maybe even less than that.
It's substantial. I don't want to run from that. We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us. But I don't have any sense that there's any permanent damage to our business there, and as I've said before, we accept the consequences of our system and our values. It's not a position any business wants to be in, but those are the results. But far lower than whatever those multibillion dollar numbers that you had heard.
Q. And the other one we're talking for another year about a decline in television ratings. Last year the discussion centered around LeBron going out West, and then he got hurt. This year Steph's hurt, Klay's hurt, Zion was hurt. You had those two teams on TV a lot. Is that the crux of the issue here, star players on national TV getting hurt, or is there something deeper there that you guys are starting to see?
ADAM SILVER: I think it's all of the above. I mean, yes, there are always going to be injuries in the league, and there are always going to be injuries, unfortunately, to star players. One of the things structurally we're looking at is there's very little flexibility when we set our schedule now. If you have, for example, a lot of Laker games last season with LeBron and he's injured, that's going to cause a problem in ratings. This year we had a lot of Warriors games early in the season and a lot of Pelicans games. So there are those issues, but I view those as short-term issues and not structural issues.
There are then some structural issues in the way our games are delivered, and it's something that we're working through with our media partners now. For example, it's well-known that on one hand we're celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they're not watching traditional paid television the way they used to. They're watching over-the-top streaming services. They're watching screens, but it's not essentially pay TV.
So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we've never been more popular, but we haven't found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they're going to be delivered.
Again, I think it's a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues. If you look at what Disney is now doing in terms of Disney+, they're going through a major transformation. The transformation at ESPN+ as opposed to Disney+ is not as rapid. It's more of a companion right now, but it's not a secret they're looking at some of those same issues. And in the case of Warner Media, you have this incredibly valuable rich media having been acquired by the telephone company, in essence, and looking for ways to combine their form of distribution with that content.
So it's not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I'm super confident over time we'll work through it because there remains enormous interest our players and our game.
Q. Commissioner, can you take us through the process of renaming the MVP trophy after Kobe Bryant.
ADAM SILVER: Sure. We were thinking about what the best way is, one of the ways to honor Kobe. It happened to be that his loss came shortly before we were moving into All-Star festivities. I think one of the things that stands out with Kobe, of course in addition to his five championships, is that he has the all-time record of 18 consecutive All-Stars and tied for the record of four MVPs. So we were thinking what is something special we could do at All-Star that had more permanence than changing the numbers on the jerseys?
And I think the thought collectively of the league office and the discussions with some particular players was, what do you think of then taking this trophy that, while it has existed for a long time, it never had that particular player association, for example, in the way The Finals MVP is the Bill Russell trophy. To all of us, it seemed like the appropriate way to bring honor to him.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports