I realize you were probably attempting to have a thoughtful and frank conversation about the WNBA on Thursday at the Sports Business Journal Game Changers conference in New York.
I'd guess it really wasn't your intent to dump cold water over the WNBA on the day the league playoffs started. Or to insult the media who've long covered women's basketball. Or to cause loyal fans to begin speculating you're not committed to the league and have lost confidence in WNBA president Laurel Richie.
In taking your full remarks into context, I understand there was more nuance, optimism and belief in the product than came through in the various media reports.
Did the media there "cherry-pick" the things you said? Maybe so, and they focused almost exclusively on this statement about the WNBA: "It's not where we hoped it would be. We thought it would have broken through by now."
That was the lead quote in at least half a dozen stories I saw, none of which were written by people who regularly cover the WNBA.
I'm not saying you shouldn't express anything that could be perceived as negative about the WNBA. But did you consider how a comment like that would be disseminated? What was your end game here?
"I don't mind the truth, even when harsh. But I'm puzzled by how publicly stated hazy dissatisfaction fits into your leadership role. It set a gloomy tone on the day when the WNBA's MVP was in action to start the postseason." Mechelle Voepel
Where exactly were you and the NBA hoping the WNBA would be in 2015? What constitutes "breaking through?" Can you be specific? Is it an attendance mark? Is it every franchise being profitable for a certain period of time? Is it LeBron James tweeting about the league? (Wait, he already does that sometimes, including this week when Elena Delle Donne was named MVP.)
Your remarks, even in their entirety, seemed a bit like what's called "vague-booking" on Facebook. We know you're not happy, but we're not sure exactly what's going on.
I don't mind the truth, even when it's harsh. But I'm puzzled by how publicly stated hazy dissatisfaction fits into your leadership role. It set a gloomy tone on the day when the WNBA's MVP was in action to start the postseason and when another one of the league's most visible players, Phoenix's Brittney Griner, ended up with a playoff-record 11 blocks.
Then there was this statement: "In terms of our marketing overall, we may have lost our way at certain points." Again, specifics? Richie was hired as the league's president in 2011 because of her marketing background. She had no basketball background. So how are we supposed to interpret this?
Or this: "The onus is on us as a league to do a better job with [the] imaging."
OK, I can help with a specific thing on that. The WNBA should not have launched a "redesigned" website this season plagued by broken links, missing information and errors. That's all gradually being fixed. But you want to talk about image? How can a professional league with the best athletes in the sport have a website that's a work in progress during its season?
As for your shout-out to The Players' Tribune, I understand the value of a site where athletes and their agents are able to craft personal stories that represent them without the media as intermediaries. The site has had some intriguing first-person pieces, photography and videos that represent the WNBA well. (It would seem as if WNBA.com could do the same thing even more often if the site were staffed, funded and managed to that purpose).
But then there was this statement you made on the media, "Leading into the playoffs tonight, there's virtually no coverage."
Really? I know I'm not imagining espnW colleague Michelle Smith and I have written about the playoffs all week (here, here and here), and read and listened to the work of others. Do you know of writers like the Associated Press' Doug Feinberg? How about newspaper reporters such as the Seattle Times' Jayda Evans, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Kent Youngblood, the Indianapolis Star's David Woods, the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla, the Washington Post's Gene Wang and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder's Charles Hallman, among others?
How about people such as Cheryl Coward, who runs the Hoopfeed website chronicling everything in women's basketball. David Siegel, whose podcasts comprehensively cover the sport. Helen Wheelock, who catalogues and publicizes stories from across the country on the Women's Hoops Blog. Lee Michaelson. Sue Favor, Mel Greenberg and many, many others -- forgive me if your name is not mentioned -- who own or contribute to sites such as Full Court and Swish Appeal.
Perhaps we're all too motley a crew for you to be aware of, Mr. Silver, residing as we do in the "women's sports ghetto." But if you're looking for your NBA "big-timers" from the media to cover the WNBA, good luck. They've virtually never covered women's basketball, and I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them to start.
I would advise, though, trying to get a better grasp on the network of traditional media, social media denizens, bloggers, freelancers, podcasters and "superfans" who closely follow the WNBA not just all season but all year. And then find ways to reach out more to them, to pick their brains for ideas, to realize there are some untapped opportunities in our technologically ultra-connected world now for the WNBA's publicity needs.
The WNBA will never be anything like the NBA in popularity, wealth and scope. However, there are people not just in the United States but across the world who care passionately about the WNBA.
One last thing, Mr. Silver -- in regard to Isiah Thomas and his role with the New York Liberty. You said it's not wrong to send the message that people can make mistakes but move on and atone for them. That's true. But it takes admitting you made the mistake or at least accepting some culpability.
You said you wished Thomas would talk more to the media about the sexual harassment suit MSG paid out $11 million for involving his tenure with the Knicks. And that transparency would help.
The thing is, when Thomas has talked to the media about this, he has denied he ever did anything wrong. You said he has made some mistakes, but he won't say that.
Bottom line: I fully realize the WNBA is still in growth mode, and it has presented some frustrating issues that have no easy answers. But I respectfully ask that next time, you carefully consider the sound bites you serve up about the WNBA. Because while the WNBA's haters gleefully pounce on and happily digest anything that seems to cast aspersion on the league, those of us who are invested in it are left wondering why you appear to be feeding that beast.