LAS VEGAS -- At the NBA Board of Governors meeting here, Adam Silver sang praises of the city as a location for NBA events. He was quick to add, “I don't gamble as the commissioner of the NBA, for the record, not because there's anything wrong with it, I just don't think I should be gambling as the commissioner.”
He might not roll dice away from the boardroom, but Silver seems more inclined toward a faster, looser NBA ecosystem. His predecessor preached the virtues of players staying with one team over time. David Stern favored a relative lack of player movement, as reflected in years of collective bargaining agreements that give incumbent teams large advantages in re-signing players. Silver represented a contrast in that approach days after LeBron James shocked the sporting universe by spurning the Miami Heat for a Cavs organization he spurned in the past.
On the question of whether this free-agent activity is “good for the league,” Silver began by saying, “I support a player's right to become a free agent,” which hews closely to Sternisms on the topic that sound more like resignation than ringing endorsement. Silver continued, though, with a broader view of how player movement benefits basketball: “I think, from a macro standpoint, I think all the movement was very positive for the league. The coverage has been fantastic.”
Yes, the coverage. Off-court intrigue has grown so colossally since the advent of Twitter that interest in the transaction might have overtaken interest in the on-court action. It’s unclear if the upside of this was lost on Stern, or if he was merely miming the interests of owners who despised groveling before empowered athletes. In any event, it represents a difference to see Silver wax so positively on the free-agent circus.
Despite the owners’ best efforts to keep players from controlling their own fates, the NBA’s hot stove has been cooking of late. Fans certainly love a loyal athlete, and there is value in one who stays with a team for the duration of his career. But in the increasingly short-attention-span theater of modern sports, incredible interest is gained through the possibility of players moving to new situations.
The NBA might never equal the NFL’s gigantic TV ratings, but the league is threatening to dominate the news cycle with all these free-agent possibilities. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a younger commissioner sees the value in the way sports consumption is changing.
LeBron James threw his lot with Cleveland while hanging out in Las Vegas, and it’s kicked off what should be a highly exciting basketball season. What happened in Vegas didn’t stay there; it enveloped the news cycle and put the spotlight on Silver’s league. It remains to be seen if owners are to see the good side of superstar movement, but what happened in Vegas showed how their sport can be helped by changes.