NEW YORK (AP) — His name is already on the ball. Now Adam Silver can put his stamp on the NBA.
On All-Star Saturday in New Orleans, Silver will deliver his first state of the league press conference as commissioner, a chance to tell a worldwide viewing audience how he plans to make the NBA bigger and better than it was under David Stern.
Don’t expect anything major.
After working so closely with Stern during his 22 years at the league, Silver’s fingerprints were already all over the $5.5 billion business long before he became in charge of it 10 days ago.
“I’m not coming in with a five-point plan,” Silver told The Associated Press during an interview in his office at NBA headquarters. “I’m not an outsider coming into the league. I’ve been part of this league for a long time and if there was something that I thought should’ve been done markedly different than the way it’s done now, I think David and I would have pushed each other to do it.
“My priority is the game and that’s what I’ll be telling people next Saturday.”
He has been at the NBA since 1992, overseeing the league’s entertainment empire, helping negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and on Feb. 1, he replaced Stern. He is liked by owners and respected by players, all believing Silver is the person to continue the massive growth the league saw under Stern.
“He’s someone who has the same kind of feel that we have, in the sense of how can we make this pie bigger? How can we make this game bigger? Miami Heat All-Star Dwyane Wade said.
“He’s going to be a good commissioner I believe. Strong in what he believes in. He was in the (CBA) meetings as well, so we know what kind of guy he is and we respect him.”
Silver, 51, ended up at taking Stern’s old job after ignoring his advice early in his career.
He laughs now when recalling the path that led to him becoming the NBA commissioner.
“It never even was a consideration of working at the NBA,” Silver said. “I don’t think I understood what that meant. I truly stumbled into working at the NBA.”
Silver began his career in the legal field but was interested in transitioning to business, the same move Stern had so successfully made. So he wrote to Stern, who had worked at the same firm where Silver’s father, Edward, was a lawyer. Silver had handled some media cases and was aware of Stern’s accomplishments in negotiating cable TV deals.
Stern gave him the number of someone to call, but the job was outside New York. Silver wasn’t interested in moving, which he explained to Stern when they spoke again.
“He said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I’ve got some other ideas,’” Silver said.
“It was happenstance,” he added. “I don’t think I quite understood what I was getting into at the time.”
He doesn’t plan on changing much, insisting that he and Stern would have already made whatever changes they felt necessary. But while the NBA’s international growth is frequently considered Stern’s greatest achievement, Silver seems focused on boosting the game’s popularity in the United States.
Silver has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to basketball.
He attended Duke in the early 1980s before the Blue Devils became a powerhouse, when nobody camped out outside Cameron Indoor Stadium because you could just get into games with a student ID. He moved to Chicago to attend law school and began going to games with friends in the early days of Michael Jordan, before the Bulls became the biggest thing in basketball.
Now Silver is following one of sports’ greatest commissioners.
He acknowledges there will be times it will feel “lonely” without Stern there to face big decisions together, but Silver has worked so closely with Stern and been involved in so many aspects of the league that the transition should be a natural one.
“Adam has been preparing for the job for a long time, he understands the business and I don’t see him having much difficulty shifting into the role of commissioner,” former NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said.
But Silver, designated as Stern’s successor in October 2012, knows that doesn’t mean it will always be easy.
“I didn’t have the same appreciation for what he was going through on a daily basis as the commissioner until I really thought about, ‘What if that were I and I had to make that decision?’” Silver said. “And it’s very different being sort of the voice in the ear of the guy making the decision as opposed to the guy making the decision.”
Nonetheless, he believes the league is in a good place and ready to grow. He met with executives from Facebook and Twitter while visiting Sacramento and Golden State during his first week as commissioner, seeking ways to bring the NBA to a larger audience than ever.
“To me,” Silver said, “the game is fantastic. The challenge is to use these new technologies and platforms to help more fans discover the game.”