SAN ANTONIO – When he stepped to the dais to address reporters for his first state of the league address in advance of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver could at least take solace that one of the least flattering incidents of his tenure had been resolved: the malfunctioning air conditioning system at AT&T Center was repaired.
The Donald Sterling distraction has yet to be completely eliminated — the former Los Angeles Clippers owner still has pending lawsuits against the NBA and Silver, who banned Sterling for life and levied a $2.5 million fine after his incendiary comments about race were recorded and made public.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently reached an agreement with the Sterling family trust to purchase the Clippers for $2 billion – a record for an NBA franchise – but Silver said he doesn’t expect the sale to be complete until a prescheduled Board of Governor’s meeting in mid-July. Silver added that Ballmer still needs to be interviewed by the Advisory Finance Committee.
“We’re almost there,” Silver said. “There is this last piece, and that is the lawsuit that Donald brought against the league and me personally. I have absolute confidence it will be resolved because as part of the sale agreement with Shelly Sterling, she agreed to indemnify the league against a lawsuit by her husband. So in essence, Donald is suing himself and he knows that. While I understand he is frustrated, I think it’s over. I think it’s just a matter of time now, and then we will move on to better topics.”
Sterling had a questionable track record with regards to race before the leaked audio and Silver was asked if he had any regrets about the way the league handled him in the past.
“It’s a good question, but I would only say I don’t have any specific regrets. You know, in hindsight should we have done more to investigate Donald? I’m frankly not sure. In this case, I mean, in addition to the fact that this tape in essence was broadcast to the world and so quickly became available to us, in the past these were issues that did not directly impact the NBA. And we’re not the government. He was investigated by the Department of Housing, the Department of Justice. There were individual lawsuits with him that settled out.
“So I was at the league during that time, and when we monitored those events, at least it felt at that time that we were doing the appropriate thing,” he said. “It’s a fair point that in hindsight possibly we should have done more. Certainly if I had to do it again, maybe we would have done more but our eyes are open going forward.”
Silver has only spoken to Donald Sterling one time over the past six weeks, while the league was investigating the recorded comments. Sterling was “not remorseful,” Silver said, while adding “there is absolutely no possibility that the lifetime ban will be rescinded or that the fine will be changed in any way.”
Shelly Sterling has not been banned from attending games but Silver said she will not have an role with the new ownership of the Clippers.
Two NBA franchises have been sold since Silver replaced David Stern as commissioner in February, with the Milwaukee Bucks going for a then-record $550 million. But Silver disagreed with the assertion that the price tag for the Clippers has overly inflated the market place for NBA teams.
“The market is what it is, so I don’t think it’s overinflated in any way, and there were several other bidders, in addition to Steve Ballmer, as you know for the Clippers, and many came fairly close to the price he ultimately paid,” Silver said. “So I have confidence that’s what the market it.”
As for the NBA Finals, Silver said the poor ventilation in Game 1 was “certainly not one of my prouder moments in my shorten tenure as commissioner so far.” The heat in the arena contributed to sauna-like conditions and led to four-time most valuable player LeBron James leaving the game with four minutes left and the Heat trailing by two points. The Spurs went on a 16-3 run to close out the game and won, 110-95.
“I’m glad that this isn’t single elimination; it’s the best of seven,” Silver said. “So it’s too early to say how this Finals will be remembered. My sense is having been involved with the League for a long time, there will be all kinds of great moments that will happen, Game 2 going forward, which will stand out more than the heat in Game 1.”
Silver plans to begin discussions with network partners this week about television contracts, which are set to expire in 2016. With the NBA player’s union still in flux, Silver has yet to address the possibility of changing the age minimum by another year. His first four months on the job have already been an adventure, but he is pleased with the direction of the league.
“It’s early days. I’ve done the best I could,” Silver said. “The state of the game has never been better. We’re enjoying record popularity, that is the game of basketball is enjoying record popularity at all levels, and in fact there is a renaissance going on in this country around this game. Second, the business of the NBA has never been better and we’re incredibly hopeful for a terrific future.”