NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the media on Thursday in Manhattan ahead of the start of the NBA Finals.
Silver opened his “State of the NBA” with the following statement:
“It’s been an incredible season. All 30 teams and players, just so much fantastic basketball throughout the year.
“Let me begin also by congratulating the Toronto Raptors and the Oklahoma City Thunder for two fantastic Conference Finals.
“Having been there with these teams all season, and I know there’s a lot of people in the back of the room here from the two teams that are now still playing, it’s just hard to underestimate the effort that’s required. And I know many of you in this room began with the league preseason, which started September 26th this year.
“So it’s an incredible year in terms of maintaining your health both physically and mentally, for the teams, for the coaches, for the front office. So it’s an incredible accomplishment. Let me say again to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Toronto Raptors, fantastic job.
“Now, for these two organizations, of course it is organizations, and let me begin with the Golden State Warriors, with Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, just two fantastic owners. Joe is the governor of the team. He’s become very involved in league matters. He does a lot on behalf of the league. I want to commend him for that. And Peter Guber is a fantastic partner of his.
“Bob Myers does a fantastic job as the general manager, Rick Welts as the president of the team. And Steve Kerr, what more can I say, Coach of the Year, together with Luke Walton this year, they just put on just a great show throughout the year. And the 73-win season, of course, will be one that will be tough to beat, and it’s going to be in the record books for a while. So just a really enjoyable season.
“The Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, again, a tremendous owner of that organization, very involved in league matters. Someone I talk to on a regular basis. His general manager, Griff (David Griffin), does also a fantastic job in this league. Ty Lue came in this season, obviously went from being associate head coach to head coach under difficult circumstances. But my hat’s off to him with what he’s done with this team. So congrats to all those folks.
“In terms of the game, it’s never been better. It’s a fantastic time to be a basketball fan. It’s a fantastic time to be an NBA fan. It just seems like the game is being reinvented. I don’t know how else to say it. It seems like both teams are transforming the game the way we’re seeing it played, the athleticism of these players. You have superstar players who can play five different positions. You have players like, for example, Steph Curry, who not only broke his own three-point record — what people are saying last year, maybe we’d have 300 made three-point shots this year. Of course, he busted through 300 and ended up with 402 three-point made shots for the regular season.
“I was thinking about it, in some ways maybe that’s like when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. I mean, it’s something that just a few years ago people thought wouldn’t be done. And the reason I’m comparing him to Roger Bannister is when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, it wasn’t something that then nobody touched for another 20 years. Shortly thereafter others broke that barrier. And my sense is that Steph and together with Klay (Thompson) what they’re doing when it comes to three-point shooting, they’ve overcome a psychological barrier, I think, for a lot of players who just never thought the kind of shots they would make were possible.
“When you see Steph especially, when you see him that far behind the three-point line, where on a regular basis he’s making 30-footers and making shots and requiring defenses to cover him in ways that they’re not used to covering players, it changes the whole dynamic of our game. I tell you, it’s just incredibly exciting.
“Same thing for the Cavaliers. I think what LeBron James is doing, his sixth Finals in a row. I think what he from a physical standpoint is able to do, just his size, his strength, his speed, again, I think this is just a delight for basketball fans everywhere.
“Let me just conclude before I answer your questions by saying, the fan in me can’t wait for it to get started. I’m anticipating a fantastic Finals as a culmination to what’s just been a wonderful season. So with that, happy to answer any questions.
Q. This has been a showcase not only for the Warriors but the city of Oakland when you think of the Bay Area. When you think of the three Bay Area cities, Oakland’s usually the last on that list. What is the possibility of the Warriors relocation to San Francisco and trying to keep the team here in Oakland where they have a tremendous fan base?
ADAM SILVER: “Here, I’m not from the Bay Area, so I can’t speak to sort of the relative importance of the various cities out here. All I can tell you is I’m very supportive of Joe and Peter and Rick Welts and their desire to move the franchise to San Francisco. I’m pleased it would remain in the Bay Area. I know they’ve had fantastic support here from Oakland. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they need a new arena in this market. And, again, the project has been presented to me several times in San Francisco, and it seems like it will be yet again the best of its kind. I’m very supportive of them doing it.”
Q. Historically when players have sort of sent a message to the game that they have caught up with it and maybe even broken through it, like you talk about with Steph, whether it’s George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, whatever, the game responds and the league responds and make rules changes and things like that. Do you foresee this league looking at the depth of the three-point line? Any changes in the court dimensions, anything at all?
ADAM SILVER: “Not anytime soon, and largely because when we’ve changed the rules in the past — and much of that happened before my time in the game — it was because there was a view that a particular player because of his skill had, frankly, an unfair advantage over other players. It made the game either less enjoyable, less competitive, less aesthetically pleasing.
“I think in this case, as I said, this is the best basketball many of us have experienced in our lifetimes. I think that in some ways Steph’s three-point shooting becomes an equalizer. Especially given the amount of travel I do outside the United States.
“To me, what’s happening with Steph, and it’s not just young boys, but young girls as well, while he’s by no means small relative to regular-sized folks, by NBA standards he’s a little bit undersized. I mean, he’s smaller than the average player in this league. He’s not particularly physically overwhelming, and I think it broadens the pool in many ways of potential players in this league. I think even with his three-point shooting, what it’s demonstrating is that there’s a whole — for a class of young people playing the game who can at least dream that they can potentially do what he can do. You can’t dream that you’re going to be 7 feet tall, but you can work at it and become a fantastic competitor on the floor.
“So we’re always looking at things, and one of the things the Competition Committee does over the summer is sit back and spend a lot of time looking at trends in the league, shooting trends and the way defenses are played, and the business side too, how fans are reacting to it.
“So I’d only say that I don’t think any change is necessary right now. We’ll continue to look at it. And incidentally, in fairness to Steph and to Klay to a certain degree, it’s not clear whether they may be aberrational. We may be looking back in 10 years from now and saying no one else can do what they can do. My hunch is that won’t be the case. That may be what Steph is demonstrating; he’s just so good that no one else can touch him. But we’ll see. Right now at least I think the game is just fantastic in its current state.”
Q. Can you talk to us about the future? You’re so happy about where the product is now. With the league and the players’ union able to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap jumping up the next couple years, is the league comfortable where salaries are going for individual players, and what do we have to look forward to in the next year?
ADAM SILVER: “Well, as you mentioned, we are in the midst of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, but in year six next year, either side has the opportunity to opt out of the agreement. So because of that, it’s no secret, we’ve been engaged in discussions with the Players Association. Both we and the Players Association have agreed, as you all know, that we won’t share what we’ve been talking about behind closed doors with the public. But I only say I remain optimistic. I think there are aspects of the collective bargaining agreement that both sides would like to see addressed, and we’re engaged in constructive discussions over how we can find ways to make the system even better.
“I’d only say that there are two critical aspects of the system. One is the macro financials of the system, and that is measured by the league in terms of profitability and for the players, of course, their individual salaries and what the players can make on a macro-basis. But just as importantly are the competitive issues. I think creating a system that allows every team I’d say the equality — an equal opportunity to compete for championships. I think we’re never going to have NFL-style parity in this league. It is the nature of this league that certain players are so good that those teams are likely almost automatically if that player remains healthy to become playoff teams and especially mixed with other great players.
“But having said that, there are still additional things we think we can do that will further encourage strong competition throughout the league. One fantastic trend I believe we’re seeing in the league, and you saw it with the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City has the smallest market in the league, has the exact same ability to put together a fantastic team and create culture just like a team from the Bay Area, and just in the same way that Cleveland does with the Toronto team. And I think that was one of our goals in the last collective bargaining agreement.
“I think players are responding. And players are attracted to strong cultures and players are attracted to situations where they see an opportunity to win and also recognize all the economic benefits that follow from that as well, rather than the economic benefits coming from a particular market or the fact a market might be larger than another one.
Q. There’s been some criticism throughout the Playoffs about officiating, the ref assignments and the Last Two-Minute Report, some from players and some also from media and fans. Can you just tell us what you think is the benefit of the Last Two-Minute Report and officiating as a whole?
ADAM SILVER: “Yeah, so I’d say the Last Two-Minute Report, we do to be as transparent as possible with the public in terms of how we think critical moments of the game are being officiated. We’re in the second year of our Last Two-Minute Reports, and I still remain strongly behind them. Now, I understand the criticism from some of the teams that, What’s the point? Why are you telling the world that this call was decided incorrectly? May have gone in our favor, may not have. Nothing can be done about it after the fact.
“My view, first of all, in terms of building confidence in the public, they want to see consistency. So they want to understand if we call something a foul, why we called it a foul, and we often give explanations for why we believe something was a foul, whether it was correctly called or incorrectly called. And also whether our teams or the fans want to have a better understanding how we see the game. If we think something’s a block, are we consistent. And it gives them transparency into the media so they can judge us accordingly and they can line up Last Two-Minute Reports or line up various plays and see whether or not we’re being consistent.
“I also think that this notion for the public that if it’s all in some black box and nobody really knows how we feel about a particular play — I just think we’re seeing more transparency in all of society now. We had begun moving along this path some years ago where in response to media inquiries we’d single out an individual play, and when asked why it would be that play, presumably it was because it was getting a lot of attention from media. And the media would say, Isn’t that true that the call was incorrect? And the chatter would get to a certain level that we’d feel obligated to say whether we agree or disagree.
“And as I said before, I think some of the teams fairly said, it seems incredibly arbitrary from the league office that you’re choosing that play to respond to but not a play that we think went against us 30 seconds earlier in the game. So we came up with this notion of the Last Two-Minute Reports. I think it’s a bit of a bright line. I think anytime you draw bright lines you can argue whether you should have been on one side or the other side of it. But games decided by five points or less we’re going to release our view of the officiating from the last two minutes. Again, I think it allows you, the members of the media and the public, to make their own judgments.
“Incidentally, just to be clear, often teams disagree with us, and I’m not naive to think that just because the league office said it was a foul that some of the great coaches or GMs in this league or owners necessarily say, Oh, therefore they’re right, but it at least gives them a sense of where we stand and requires us to give our explanation of why we thought whatever the decision we made was accurate.
“It ties directly into replay, I should say too. Because one thing I’m pleased about is as we’ve continued to add more triggers for replay over the years. I think we’re finally at the point where everyone’s saying, I think it’s about right. People recognize there are additional plays that we could replay, but balance against the stoppage in play or making our games even longer or taking away the flow from the game. We’re at about the right point.
“So it’s our hope that you take the Last Two-Minute Reports together with using a certain amount of replay that we’re building to build trust and integrity in the league. That people are going to recognize that we are going to make mistakes, the officials are going to make mistakes. Human error is going to be part of this game, just as it is with players. But they’re going to come away saying, All right, there are people that they’ve made a mistake, they’re going to try to understand why we made it. Incidentally I think having Steve Javie on ESPN, obviously, a former longtime NBA official, not just talking about plays but explaining from his standpoint why he thinks the officials were wrong based on their training, what they’re taught to look at in a particular moment in the game. They’re taught to look at their hands in that case, not at their feet. That’s why they may miss it. Joe Borgia does the same for Turner and NBA TV. I think all of that helps. The more we can educate our fans about what we’re doing, how difficult the jobs are for the officials, I think the better we’ll be.
“Lastly I’d say largely what these Last Two-Minute Reports are showing is that the referees get it right about 90% of the time.
“Now, from a fan standpoint, the other side of the coin is so, in other words, they’re getting it wrong one out of 10 calls? And I accept that.
“So to your ultimate question, how do I feel about the officiating? My feeling is I’d like that to be 100%. I’d love to get zero errors. I don’t think we’re ever going to be there. But we can learn from these reports. We can learn from talking to our teams where it is that we’re falling down in terms of our program, potentially our training, and find ways to improve it.
“So ultimately perception is one thing. And I think it’s critically important that I deal with perception, but most importantly substantively we have to deal with the program and see what it is we can do to continue to improve officiating.
“By the way, I just met with the officials before this game, just to wish them luck and tell them to stay healthy, and they couldn’t agree more. They share that view. They understand there is huge potential to be embarrassed when the league is putting out reports and acknowledging that calls are wrong, and they want to get it right too. Believe me. I mean, it’s just like we’ve all had those moments and I finish a press conference and I say, Oh, my God, I can’t believe what I just said, and I see myself on television and it’s even worse.
“The officials seem to feel the same way. When they go back into the locker room after a game and somebody shows them a replay and it demonstrates it was something that was not shown on replay and they realize they got it wrong, there is a terrible pit in their stomachs and they lose a lot of sleep over that. So we all share common interests in improving officiating and finding ways, whatever it takes, to make it even better.”
Q. You alluded earlier to the idea of parity. We have obviously a rematch in The Finals right now and before that there was a rematch with San Antonio and Miami. So it’s been only four teams in The Finals in the last four years. Fairly unusual. On balance, good thing, bad thing, and other implications there do you think for competitive balance?
ADAM SILVER: “Let me just add to your statistic that I think the four teams in The Finals in the last four years that there have been 10 teams in the Conference Finals over the last four years. So roughly a third of the league has been in the Conference Finals over the last four years.
“The word ‘parity,’ it’s interesting. I thought a lot about it lately, which is why I kind of stopped myself a minute ago and said that rather than parity being our goal, I think it should be a quality of opportunity, or maybe there is a better way of saying it. Because as I said, I look — for example, I’m a football fan. And I look at the NFL, and as a fan I love that any-given-Sunday notion. I think it’s just by virtue of that game when an individual player cannot be as dominant, when separate players are playing offense and defense, et cetera, when players aren’t necessarily going to touch the ball on every play, that you can create more true parity.
“I think in this league we recognize that certain players are so unique and we’re going to see a lot of those players in this Finals, clearly LeBron, Kyrie Irving. These are some of the best athletes in the world. Obviously, Steph and Klay and Draymond, also an All-Star on their team.
“When you add those players to teams and then those teams are well-managed and well-coached, they have incentives to stay together because they know ultimately nobody can do it themselves and it does require a team. So it’s sort of momentum gets built, and then you have a salary system where teams, especially for superstars, are not competing on salaries because it’s a system that controls how much they make. As I’ve said, one of the things I love, the trend that’s happened in this league over the last five years is that the economic opportunities come from success, not come from markets. I’ve said this before in talking to Nike, the two largest endorsers by dollars for Nike — I think I have this right — are LeBron number one, and he’s in Cleveland, and Kevin Durant, number two, in Oklahoma City. And those deals were based on the global prominence of those players. They were not a function in any way of the markets they happen to be playing in.
“I think what’s positive in this league is the players realize that the additional success will come from staying in those markets.
“So to answer your question, in terms of so-called parity, I think the best we can hope for in this league is that every market, every team has the opportunity to compete for those great players, can obviously enter the draft and do their best, but then take those players they draft, take those players that they trade for or sign as free agents, build culture, coach those players well, strategically manage a system and build toward success.
“So I don’t necessarily measure success or not based on how many different teams over four years we have in The Finals. I’d say in this year from the league standpoint, we want the regular season to matter. I was proud in many ways of the fact the Golden State Warriors were open about the fact they were going for the record. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing at certain points in the Playoffs when commentators were saying, If they were to lose in the Playoffs would it have been worth it to have won 73 games? I thought, My gosh, that’s the state of the game. It’s truly boom or bust. The only thing that matters is championships.
“I’d just finish by saying the only thing that matters isn’t championships. By definition, if there was such a thing as true parity and every team had the same chance of winning every year, I guess statistically you would win once out of 30 years. So that would be the odd result as well. I think what fans around the league, what the communities want is teams to compete.
“It’s silly to say everybody wants their team to win, because the fans are too smart. They know it’s a zero-sum game, and the league office at least yet hasn’t figured out how to create more wins. So what fans want is their team to always be competing, always building toward something. Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll never rebuild. But they want to understand the strategy and understand the enormous passion and resources and creativity that’s going into it.
“So our goal is to have a league where 30 teams are always competing. And I think we’re increasingly moving closer to that model.