To say the NBA has been successful under commissioner Adam Silver is a bit like saying that Michael Phelps was successful at the Olympics between 2004 and 2016.
It’s undeniably true, and it’s also a gross understatement in need of a far stronger word than “successful.”
The NBA has nearly doubled its annual revenue since Silver became commissioner in February 2014, from $4.8 billion to a projected $9.1 billion, according to ESPN. Team valuations are up 267 percent since 2013 to an average of $1.9 billion.
Even the New Orleans Pelicans, a complete dumpster fire of a franchise, are worth an estimated $1.2 billion, according to Forbes, and that’s second-worst in the league. For comparison, teams were worth an average of $509 miillion in 2013, before Silver took over.
The leadership stability that has turned the NBA into a global brand first under Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, and now under Silver himself has made a lot of people very rich. So of course some owners in the NFL, a league whose revenues and TV ratings have seemed to plateau in recent years, would be interested in having Silver replace the oft-mocked Roger Goodell.
Silver did not exactly confirm rumors that he’s been approached by some football owners regarding the possibility switching leagues, though he didn’t hotly deny them either, according to ESPN.
“I’ll just say I have not given it any thought,” Silver told ESPN. “I feel very fortunate to be in this position. As a longtime fan, as a longtime league employee, the opportunity to become the commissioner of this league was beyond anything I even ever dreamed of as a kid.”
“I’ve loved every day I’ve been in this job, and I think there’s nothing but enormous opportunity ahead for this league,” he added. “And ultimately, I realize I’m just passing through like every player who’s gone through this league and ultimately like every owner, and I feel an enormous obligation to the fans and to this greater NBA family to do my best and try my hardest every day. But that’s where 100 percent of my focus is.”
Silver’s leadership style seems uniquely suited to the NBA’s specific place in America’s social landscape.
The NFL is a league strongly rooted in order and conformity; players hide their faces behind helmets and fans rarely get too attached to individual personalities. Unless we’re talking fantasy teams, the logo on the helmet will always be more important than the name on the jersey.
The NBA is the polar opposite. As the league holds its All-Star Weekend over the next few days, it will be all about the individuals. The slam dunk contest, for instance, makes stars out of players who fans outside of those players’ city might now watch every time they’re on ESPN or TNT.
LeBron James is perhaps the most recognized athlete in the world. Giannis Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, is a player from Greece who competes in one of the NBA’s smallest markets in Milwaukee and has a name that drives copy editors at NBA sites buggy, yet who led all players in the Eastern Conference All-Star fan vote because he’s simply electrifying to watch.
Crossing that cultural divide clearly doesn’t appeal to Silver, who continually professes support for his constituency. Besides, why leave a job that he’s clearly excelling at, considering all the money the league has made since he took over?
And what’s more, in America’s changing demographics, the NBA’s urban outreach has it positioned as the favorite sport of many young fans, who are going to carry that love of basketball with them as they get older.
Plus, the NBA is the only sport other than soccer with a truly global reach; baseball is popular in Latin America and Japan, but basketball encompasses Europe, Africa, Asia and South America and has recognizable stars past and present from all over the world.
Silver would be a fool to leave the NBA behind. It’s his dream job, he loves what he does and he’s wildly successful at it. Small wonder NFL owners reportedly want him to run their league … and no wonder at all he’s turning them down.
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