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Adam Silver: A Kinder, Gentler NBA Commissioner

Silver, incoming commissioner of the NBA, during the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York on Sept. 10

Photograph by Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Silver, incoming commissioner of the NBA, during the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York on Sept. 10

Adam Silver, the incoming commissioner of the National Basketball Association, began his Tuesday morning interview at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit with a gentle dig at his legendary predecessor. Asked how the league would be different once he took over for David Stern, he quipped: “I didn’t yell at you for asking that question.”

During his 30 years at the helm, Stern has built a reputation for both acumen and prickliness. Silver, who’s been with the NBA for 21 years, including serving as deputy commissioner since 2006, presents a smoother and less acerbic personality. At the NBA draft in New York every year, it became tradition for fans to boo Stern when he took the stage at the start and then cheer when Silver took over to announce the second-round picks.

Silver also brings a softer approach to his most important constituents—the NBA’s 30 team owners. Where Stern has handed out more than $1.8 million in fines to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban over the last 13 years, Silver name-checked him today as part of a new generation of more active, savvy ownership. “It’s a different time,” he said. “Owners are more sophisticated about the business of sports than they were years ago.” As franchise values have climbed, Silver said, owners have focused more on day-to-day operations. “Frankly,” he added, “I’m very fortunate to have this incredible array of expertise that I can rely on.”

Silver has reason to be cheerful. He inherits a league on the brink of what’s sure to be a massively lucrative new contract for media rights. “Things are terrific. I have no complaints,” he told Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick of the pending TV deals. “When things are going good, it often makes sense to lock in that prosperity.”

Still, it’s not all sunshine from Silver. “I’m looking at Jeff Kessler. And Ron [Klempner],” he said of the NBA players’ union legal counsel and interim executive director—both seated in the front row at Tuesday’s event—when discussing the prospect of HGH testing in the NBA.

Klempner, who was part of the next panel on sports labor relations, seemed eager to engage the league over new fines for flopping. By then, however, Silver had already left the auditorium.

Boudway is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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