Analysis: Adam Silver earned his new deal to remain as commissioner of the NBA

Adam Silver works for the NBA’s owners, who have seen their franchise values soar over the last decade. He doesn’t work for the players, but they seem to be rather enjoying how their bank accounts are getting stuffed as well.

It’s a win-win.

And that means keeping him around seemingly is a no-brainer.

Silver and the league’s owners agreeing on an extension for him to remain as commissioner of the NBA for years to come, a development first reported Saturday night by ESPN and confirmed by The Associated Press, makes sense on every possible level. Owners are making money. Players are making money. Fans are happily spending lots of money, as proven by the league setting attendance records.

“Max contract? Seven years, $350 million?” Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo asked when told by AP about Silver’s extension agreement.

Antetokounmpo was kidding around, and the financial terms weren’t released, but there was a point within the joke — Silver earned this new deal.

“He’s done an incredible job,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s always been there for us. I don’t think there’s ever been a time where I’d see him somewhere and we didn’t have a conversation about something that’s bothering me. Whenever I want to, I can reach out and set up a meeting … he’s always available for us.”

The 10-year anniversary of Silver taking over as commissioner and replacing his mentor David Stern in the NBA’s top job is Thursday. Silver is typically happy to talk at length about just about any issue when asked, except himself. Put it this way: the idea of a retrospective-type story — his first decade in office — simply wouldn’t appeal to him.

He was asked about the looming anniversary when he spoke in Paris earlier this month before the game there between Cleveland and Brooklyn, and what he considered his best moment and worst moment as commissioner. “There have been a lot of great moments and some low moments as well. I’d have to think more about that,” Silver said, before immediately pivoting to things like World Basketball Day being celebrated by the United Nations, how more girls are interested in the WNBA and that players are more open about their mental health than ever before.

Silver seems to be always looking forward, not backward.

“I’m happy for hjm,” Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said. “He’s been pushing this league in a great way and making it more worldwide, global. And I think he’s still going to continue to do that and do great things.”

The highlight reel is a long one, capped of late by two initiatives that Silver wanted amid skepticism that was ultimately proven wrong — the play-in tournament and the in-season tournament. The play-in brings a feel of March Madness to mid-April in the NBA, and the in-season tournament was raved about by players who said it breathed new life into the regular season.

Another huge win: The international growth. Nearly 1 of 4 NBA players now aren’t born in the U.S., including most of the league’s top scorers this season — Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Antetokounmpo among them. The NBA proudly touts that its big events are seen in more than 200 countries and territories and says 1 in 8 people in the world watch the league at some point each year.

That’s basically 1 billion people seeing at least some NBA action, fueled in part by exclusive digital rights deals he helped strike with Tencent in China and with Rakuten in Japan.

“I think you’ll only see more kids, boys and girls, who are turned on to this game and the love of this game,” Silver said. “It’s just increasingly becoming global, and I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.”

That ride for Silver has included changing the rules — coaches challenges and freedom-of-movement for offensive players are in, stars resting for national TV games and away-from-the-play-fouls late in quarters are out. He wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in 2014 about the value of sports betting; it was an absolute conversation-starter and most states have legalized it since.

He guided the NBA through a pandemic, banned Donald Sterling, ensured labor peace will continue until at least the end of this decade. He’s also dealt with some questions, with some wondering if he went too lightly on Ja Morant in the first gun-video incident last year and if Draymond Green’s suspension for on-court acts like grabbing Rudy Gobert around the neck and hitting Jusuf Nurkic in the face this season should have been tougher.

Such is the job. It’s all about tough decisions. There are huge ones that aren’t too far down the road; the next media rights deal will basically set the financial baseline for the coming decade or so, and once that is done the NBA will likely turn quickly to expansion talks that will send billions more into the league’s coffers.

“Our league, from the time that I came in until now, it’s 10 times better,” Antetokounmpo said. “Everything’s more organized. … I think he’s done a tremendous job. He’s definitely a max player.”


AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Milwaukee and Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed.


Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)



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