NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is flattered by the reports that the NFL and Fortune 500 companies are interested in recruiting him for future leadership positions.
That said, he has a message for those indulging in the speculation: He’s not going anywhere.
“I love my job at the NBA,” he told CNBC on Saturday. “The NBA has never been on a greater trajectory and I couldn’t be happier with my job.”
During Silver’s five years as Commissioner, league revenues have doubled to over $9 billion, and team valuations have never been higher. The average NBA team is worth just under $2 billion, according to Forbes, up 267 percent in five years.
However, it’s not just about the money. Silver is frequently praised by both owners and players for his leadership ability.
“He’s steady as a rock and the most graceful businessman I’ve been around,” Washington Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis said in a recent interview with CNBC.
“Adam has really taken the league by storm,” said Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca. “He’s been ahead of all the trends, he helped globalize the game. Arguably [he’s] one of the best CEOs that we’ve seen in sports.”
Despite his rapid success, Silver says he’s confident there’s more room to grow. On Saturday the league announced in 2020 it will launch the Basketball Africa League, featuring 12 teams from Africa. It’s a continuation of the expanded investment the NBA has put into expanding the game across the globe, especially in Africa.
“Think about the global opportunity for the league. We are doing all kinds of new things in Africa, China and India,” Silver said, adding that more kids are playing basketball than ever before around the world.
Silver expected the NBA’s most immediate source of growth would come from increased streaming of games around the world. He is also bullish on electronic sports (esports) and sports gambling, but admits that sports gambling growth has been slower than many people expected.
“I truly think the best days of the league are still ahead of us. Even Michael Jordan was saying the same thing,” he told CNBC.
The LeBron effect
The NBA’s top official also addressed the competitive balance of the league, saying that over time it stands to improve. Still, some things are well within each team’s ability to control, he said.
“It’s about management in this league, and it’s about developing a great culture and winning,” Silver added. He points out to the success of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who came to the league by way of Nigeria and has quickly become a global icon.
“I don’t think anyone thinks if he were down the road in Chicago, he would be more popular just based on that,” Silver said.
While NBA ratings have seen slight declines this season, many people attributing it to Lebron James moving to the Lakers, who play in the Pacific Time Zone. James also missed nearly 20 games due to injury.
Addressing the power of the league’s biggest star, the commissioner said that if the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, it will hurt business.
“That will impact the ratings because [James] has such a big global following,” Silver said, noting it would be true regardless of what team James played for. However, Silver pointed out that James missing the playoffs would though help the next generation of NBA players get exposure.
“But I wouldn’t count the Lakers or just yet,” he added.