A year ago, Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was not only nervously waiting to be drafted into the NBA, but also prepping for the first big interview of his career as a journalist with NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. Now with McCollum one season in and Silver as the new NBA Commissioner, the two sat down again, this time at Barclays Center in Brooklyn just hours prior to last month’s NBA Draft. Topics ranged from the expected — draft age, the state of the game — to the unexpected, such as secret societies and hip-hop.
Adam Silver, CJ McCollum
CJ McCollum: Describe your first year thus far as NBA Commissioner in one word.
Adam Silver: Eventful. As you know, it hasn’t even been a full season. I would say in addition to being eventful, it’s been exhilarating. It has been fun, stressful at moments, but the good news is the league is in great shape.
One of the things I’ve learned is that there are so many people that care about the game that advice comes from everywhere and people are so willing to give their time and their wisdom to me, even in cases where they otherwise are competitors, whether it be [National Football League commissioner] Roger Goodell or [Major League Baseball commissioner] Bud Selig or [National Hockey League commissioner] Gary Bettman. There is a real fraternity out there of commissioners, which I didn’t realize. I think it must be a secret society.
Once I became NBA commissioner, they gave me the secret handshake, and everybody is all in it together. So, that’s been really positive.
CJ: You said there is help from the outsiders. Let’s talk a little bit about how former NBA Commissioner David Stern has helped you in making the transition to being the commissioner.
AS: I worked directly for David for 22 years in five different jobs. So, being commissioner is my sixth job with the NBA.
I began at the NBA as David’s Special Assistant in August, 1992. So, a lot of it was through osmosis, just spending time and traveling with him, being around him and seeing how he handled various situations. So when the whole Clippers matter came up, he didn’t need to tell me what to do because I had worked under him for so long. I had been trained directly by him on how to respond to crisis situations.
CJ: Speaking of the Clippers situation … talk to me a little bit about what you went through the first 48 hours and how you went from hearing about the news to making the statement. What was that process?
AS: It was a whirlwind at the time the recording came out, and I was fortunate that I was traveling, because that allowed me to talk directly to a lot of players, coaches and owners. Certainly there were several other people, business partners of the NBA, friends, former commissioners, who I was able to talk to and all of whom were very forthcoming with their advice.
CJ: That’s interesting. I always wondered how crisis situations were handled, especially how it involves an owner/player situation. Let’s talk about the playoffs a little bit. As you said before, you got to see some of it live this year. It was very competitive. Touch on where you think the state of the game is right now? .
AS: The state of the game is excellent. I think we saw it through an incredibly engaging playoffs resulting in some of the best basketball I’ve seen in my career by the San Antonio Spurs. I think it gave a lot of teams and their fans hope that they could put together a championship team because what of we saw with the Spurs.
It wasn’t just about the aggregation of superstars — not that there’s anything wrong with that. In the case of San Antonio, they had a different approach, one that was built through the Draft. You have a No. 1 overall pick in Tim Duncan, who is now 38 years old and playing at a remarkably high level; Kawhi Leonard, No. 15 overall, Tony Parker, No. 28 and Manu Ginobili, the last pick — 57th overall — of the second round.
Not to take anything away from the Miami Heat because it’s been an historic run: Four straight Finals appearances and two NBA championships.
On the court, the play has been terrific and off the court, we’re seeing fans in all markets increasingly engage with their teams. In certain cases, we are seeing the result of a new collective bargaining agreement and a new revenue sharing plan where teams in every market, if well managed, have the ability to compete for championships.
CJ: I was going to ask you about big markets versus small markets. Earlier in the season I visited New York and you were talking about a small market like Portland and San Antonio versus an L.A. or New York. Do you think the league in five or 10 years will trend toward building a team the way the Spurs do opposed to a mega team up of superstar players?
AS: I support a player’s right to go where he wants and I think that is part of what free agency is. It has been something bargained for by your union, and hopefully players are in the position to make decisions to play in cities they want to be in or to play with other players they want to be with. I have also learned that players want to win and that they are going to be attracted to winning situations. I think that is regardless of market sizes.
Players have told me over the years they want to be in the smaller markets. If you are in a market such as Portland and you are the only major league team in the city, there is a real ability and opportunity to impact everything that happens there and change the entire culture. It’s a lot more difficult in a city where there are multiple major league teams and it’s just a much bigger market.
If you look at the conference finals from this season, all four teams were in the bottom half of the league in terms of market size. A lot of people think of Miami now as a big market but they rank 17th among the 30 teams by market size. Before LeBron went to Miami, I’d never heard players around the league saying, “I can’t wait until I’m a free agent so I can get to Miami.” You don’t hear that in the case of the NFL with the Dolphins, or frankly with Major League Baseball with the Marlins. It’s because he went there and created something special, and they are winning.
CJ: Chemistry is huge.
CJ: So, we’re going to change the pace a little bit and talk about the Draft. Tell me a little bit about how you’re feeling about going out there for the first round for the first time. Are you expecting cheers? Boos? What is it going to be like to switch roles a little bit here?
Commissioner Silver greets No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins last month in Brooklyn. (Joe Murphy /NBAE)
AS: I’m excited. I’m not sure exactly what to expect. I realize it’s a little bit of a tradition, booing the commissioner. I’ll tell you a funny story from last year. I did my usual second-round selections, and afterwards, I came offstage and a few of my colleagues said to me, “What did it feel like to be booed?” I said “Oh, I didn’t realize I was booed. I thought they were cheering.”
CJ: I’m going to talk to Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum later on tonight. Any advice for him?
AS: My advice to Mark is to keep going. It’s probably the same thing that players do when they’re on the road and they hear fans booing. You just have to stay on your game.
C.J.: Draft age. You see Andrew Wiggins, you see all these guys — 19, 20 years old. I’m a guy who took the four-year route.What’s your take on the Draft age, and do you think maybe it will be changed or will you guys kind of keep it the way it is?
AS: It’s not a simple issue. There are very good arguments on both sides. I understand young men saying to me, “If I feel that I’m ready whether that’s coming out of high school or coming out after one year of college, I should have the right.”
There is a balance of factors that you need to look at. I think ultimately it is in the best interest of the league to raise the age minimum from 19 to 20. Of course that’s something that cannot be done unilaterally. That can only happen through a negotiation with the Players Association.
From an economic standpoint we pay 50 percent of revenue to the players. That’s how the salary cap is determined. That’s how ultimately players’ salaries are determined. Just so it’s clear, there’s no economic savings to us by raising the minimum age from age 19 to 20.We pay the 50 percent no matter what.
Ultimately, we believe we would have a better league if our teams were able to see these young men play one more year. They would be more equipped for the rigors of coming into the league both physically and mentally. As you know, playing at this level is a tough transition., There are a lot of injuries and distractions coming from all directions as a player. To me, there is a big difference in your life between 18 and 19, and between 19 and 20. So my preference would be to raise the age. It would need to be discussed with the Union and the NCAA needs to come to the table as well.
Recently, there’s been a lot more focus on student athletes at colleges and whether or not their scholarships are covering all of their needs. Things like whether or not there should be supplemental payments to insure that they can have the appropriate meal plan and be able to get a laptop if they need one or if there is adequate insurance, especially for a career-ending injury in college. So what I’d like to see is for college athletes to be covered and raise the minimum age.
C.J.: Some people are going to be happy and unhappy whatever you decide. Let’s talk a little bit about technology. I know the NBA is using technology, trying to reach other countries and globally trying to expand the game. What type of influence do you think technology is having in the NBA and where do you see it going?
AS: I can’t think of anything that’s had a greater influence than technology on the NBA, on the game itself.
First of all, the various replay triggers that we have put in place over the last several years has had a big, positive impact. Because of the high definition feeds and the increasing number of cameras that are covering the game and the clarity of those pictures, we are able to do a better job of officiating the game.
There needs to be a balance between getting the call right and additional stops in games. This is a game of flow and momentum so we are very focused on that.
I think there is a very thorough replay system for us to do a better job officiating the games. One of the new additions we’re talking about for next year is a having a centralized replay room to assist the referees. Those plays could be cued up faster with a group of officials sitting in a room. For example, when the crew chief goes to look at the replay at the courtside monitor, he would be assured that he’s looking at the right feed.
In terms of broadband internet technology, the world of blogs and apps has also had a significant impact on the game. It makes it that much easier to follow the game. When I visit NBA.com, I can look up anything about your statistics, and I can run all kinds of different permutations through our stats section. We have these SportVu cameras in all the arenas now. Probably your coaches have shown you some of that breakdown. We have cameras in the rafters in all the arenas, and so we can track players on the court and I think it really helps the coaches do a better job diagramming plays, understanding defenses. There are so many ways that technology leads to a better league.
C.J.: You bring some interesting points. The TV one is something that sticks out to me because I like to watch it on a very large TV. Let’s talk a little bit about your favorite technology. I think last year you may have said it was your laptop or something of that sort. What’s your favorite technology?
AS: The official technology partner of the NBA is Samsung. Of course, there’s the Samsung Galaxy which is my favorite technology.
C.J.: I have to put that as my favorite, too. I picked up a Samsung today. What type of music do you listen to?
AS: I listen to a lot of old-school music. I still buy through all these various music services. A lot of music of the ’70s from when I was growing up. But I have very eclectic music taste. I’ll listen to classical occasionally. I listen to a lot of R&B, you know sort of more associated with my childhood. I listen to hip-hop music. I’ve gotten to know some of the artists through my time at the league. I’m sort of more curious.
C.J.: Do you have a list of favorite rappers?
AS: I’ll begin with Jay-Z. I’m a fan of Jay-Z. I got to know him through his ownership of the Nets, and now of course as he’s representing players in the league. I’ve been to several of his concerts. I’ve become a big fan of his, and not just because of his music, but because of his impact on society. I found him to be an amazing person.
C.J.: So would Jay-Z be the last concert you attended?
AS: I haven’t been to many concerts lately. I go to a lot of games. The last concert I attended was Jay-Z at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
C.J.: Did you body surf?
AS: For the record, I did not. And just to show I’m getting a little old, and Jay if you’re reading this … it was kind of loud.
C.J.: Yeah it’s loud for me, too! You talked a little about the importance of apps and how you can use fantasy apps, there’s apps for weather. You know, there are apps for anything and everything. What’s your favorite app and which one do you use the most?
AS: You’re going to think I’m a shameless shill for the NBA, but my favorite app is NBA GameTime. It’s the app where you can not only get all the statistics about games, but you can get the live feed of our home and away broadcasts for every game, and the quality is just off the charts. It’s the way I watch probably the majority of games these days. And of course, for this summer, I’ll watch Summer League action — Orlando and Las Vegas — on the NBA Summer League Live app.
I’m also a big fan of the New York Post app, it’s terrific. Unlike most newspaper apps, the paper displays in tabloid form. It’s as if you’re turning the pages rather than looking at the way the articles are filed digitally.
CJ: You gave me great advice last year. You said take advantage of your opportunities. I just want to thank you for that. I appreciate that. I have a radio show now largely in part to Excel and your team. You know, if you ever want my autograph, I’ll be happy to give it to you.
AS: All those years I spent working for David [Stern], for the first 20 I worked for him, everyone wanted his autograph. Toward the end of his commissionership, people wanted selfies. And now everyone has gone completely with selfies.
CJ: We’ll take a selfie before I leave. That is a great point. I can get the NBA to retweet, so I can get my followers up. It will be perfect. This upcoming Draft has a lot of very good players in it. Would you have any advice for them? And my last question, if you had the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, who would you take?
AS: If I had the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, I’d pick … I can’t tell you. I’m glad it’s not my decision to make. I get to read the names.
In terms of advice for the Draft guys, I hear this on the radio all the time — don’t text and drive. It’s one of the most dangerous things out there. Everybody knows, and hopefully you would never take a drink and drive. I think we all think we can multitask and there’s a temptation for all of us when we’re driving cars to just take a quick look at that text or that email. I think that’s something I want to make sure that these young men never do and for all of your listeners and followers as well.
For the young men entering the Draft, stay focused on your game.
Congratulations to you on the Sirius XM show, and all your continued work on the journalism front. It’s great to see you taking advantage of these opportunities.
For these other young men, it’s important to focus on your health and nutrition and your sleep. It’s a challenge because there are so many distractions. You have to have the discipline to say that this is a job, playing in the NBA. I’m going to work at it, in essence, all the time, to maximize my potential. I’m thrilled to hear you’re working hard this summer.
CJ: I appreciate it. I appreciate the advice, and I’ll pass it along. Thank you for taking the time and we’ll get the selfie done.