CLEVELAND — As the NBA held its annual All-Star Game at a point in time league commissioner Adam Silver referred to as a hopeful « bookend » to signify the end of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was asked about a litany of issues that his league must navigate going forward on Saturday.
And he didn’t have many definitive answers.
On the recent Philadelphia-Brooklyn swap that saw Ben Simmons join the Nets after sitting out the entire season up to the trade deadline and James Harden join the Sixers after appearing to self-sabotage his production in Brooklyn to force the Nets’ hand, he offered no solution.
« I don’t have something specific in mind that can prevent a situation like this, » Silver said. « But I think we and the players have a collective common interest in ensuring that contracts are honored. »
Silver also said that the league has not looked into any potential tampering by the Sixers in their pursuit of Harden. « No team has logged a formal complaint with the league, » he said.
And he would not wade into whether or not Simmons’ reported mental health disorders should be a viable reason to be able to recoup lost salary from Philadelphia fining him.
« The Ben Simmons situation specifically, it’s hard for me to comment on that, » Silver said. « I really don’t have any of my own information on that, but around the league teams have committed additional resources to dealing with the mental, spiritual well-being of their players. I think it’s something that we have talked a lot more about in terms of all our community programs, and it’s another area where I really don’t have any doubt we can do more. »
On the league’s investigation into Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver’s alleged history of racism and misogynistic behavior that was opened months ago, he offered no clarity. « No update on the Suns investigation, » he said. « It’s ongoing. »
On the trend of healthy players such as the Houston Rockets’ John Wall this season or Al Horford, when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, being paid their full salary not to play in games, he offered no policy change.
« Do I have a ready fix? No, » Silver said. « I think, again, I’m hoping that those are the kinds of issues that when we sit down with the players, we can approach collectively. »
On the very public saga that’s played out in Brooklyn in regards to guard Kyrie Irving’s playing status as he continues to reject the COVID-19 vaccine, thus disqualifying him from playing home games in New York City, Silver offered no enforcement of the medical measure.
« Obviously, vaccines, boosters, anti-virals, et cetera, that didn’t exist when the pandemic started, » he said. « So I feel that as a country, as a world, we’re much better equipped to deal with it now. In terms of New York City, I’m not sure exactly what will happen specifically there. »
Silver did take a stance on the issue of reporters returning at some point to teams’ locker rooms, saying « it’s not going to be easy » to restore access. Members of the media have been barred from locker rooms before and after games since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
« I think that depending on where we see this virus, potential variants, you know, I think creating a little bit of distance may make more sense for the foreseeable future, » Silver said. « I also think it’s a bit of an anachronism to have reporters in the actual room where players are dressing. »
In a statement released hours after his news conference, Silver clarified that the league has « made no decision on modifications to our access policy and look forward to engaging in dialogue with our teams, the Players Association and the media on how we can best move forward post-pandemic. »
Whatever issues the league will continue to navigate, Silver was justified in the optimistic tone he projected during his news conference with reporters on Saturday night if only for what the weekend represents. The NBA is celebrating its 75th anniversary this season and approximately 50 of the top 75 players in league history came to Cleveland for the weekend’s festivities. Silver estimated All-Star Weekend would mean a $100 million economic boost for Cleveland.
« It’s a reminder to me that there’s so much ahead of us, » he said. « When I think about where this league now stands 75 years into its existence as we become more global, as we become more digital, it only creates more opportunities for us to bring basketball literally to every spot on the planet. We see continued growth in the sport. »
Silver also highlighted the incremental gains the league has made in diversity hires, as seven of the eight coaching vacancies last offseason were filled by a minority candidate.
« I’m proud of the progress we’ve seen on the coaching front, » he said. « Sixteen of our head coaches now are people of color. Fourteen are Black … Very positive progress there. »
Unlike the NFL, which instituted the Rooney Rule to require teams to interview minority candidates for coaching and management openings, Silver says the NBA is taking a more holistic approach to diversifying its league, which is understood of a player base that is nearly 70% Black .
« I don’t want to set quotas around this league, » Silver said. « Again, this is an area where in fairness to those great general managers out there and presidents of basketball, I don’t want to take from teams their ability to make decisions, but I want to make sure that we’re helping develop the right pool of candidates, that they’re paying attention to diversity, that they are recognizing the benefits that come from it, from diversity and inclusion in terms of how those teams are managed, how players potentially respond. »
Silver ended his session on a high note, reveling in the success of the play-in tournament, which was originally introduced as a way to make the NBA bubble more competitive and quickly became a seamless part of the league’s landscape.
« In many ways, it’s been better than we had anticipated, » Silver said. « I don’t want to overstate it because I don’t have many years to go by, but we’re pleased. »
He said the success of the play-in tournament gives the league confidence it can eventually introduce an in-season tournament, although he said it would not happen in the 2022-23 season.
« Maybe we can create some new competitive opportunities, find ways to enhance competition within the season, create a new cup, trophy that players are competing for, » he said.