Silver, who took over for David Stern in 2014 and has overseen a surge of revenue and popularity for the NBA, followed that non-denial of interest from at least a few NFL team owners by saying that he felt “very fortunate to be in this position."
“As a longtime fan, as a longtime league employee,” he told ESPN, “the opportunity to become the commissioner of this league was beyond anything I even ever dreamed of as a kid.”
The NFL’s revenue has also reportedly risen under Goodell, but in contrast to Silver, he has had a rocky tenure in recent years, coming under severe criticism for his handling of punishments for players and of the protests some players have staged during the national anthem. While Goodell is widely unpopular among both NFL players and fans, the same does not appear to be the case with Silver, who was praised last year by LeBron James while the NBA’s biggest star drew a contrast with the NFL.
“In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality,” James said in an episode of “The Shop,” his HBO show. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f--- I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.’ ”
“I’m so appreciative in our league of our commissioner,” James continued as he conversed with, among others, Rams running back Todd Gurley II. “He doesn’t mind us having . . . a real feeling and to be able to express that. It doesn’t even matter if Adam agrees with what we are saying, he at least wants to hear us out. As long as we are doing it in a very educational, nonviolent way, then he’s absolutely okay with it.”
Silver has carved out a reputation as a progressive, forward-thinking leader, and the NBA has become by far the most politically outspoken of the major U.S. sports leagues, with President Trump notably a frequent target of barbs from not only players, including James, but also coaches such as the Warriors’ Steve Kerr and the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. At a sports-business event last year, Silver encouraged attendees to “not stick to sports,” telling them (via SI.com), “I think there’s never been a time when sports has been more impactful on society then it is today.”
In pursuing their grievance against NFL owners for allegedly colluding to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the league, he and his legal team are claiming that Trump has influenced league executives to become staunchly opposed to the demonstrations staged by some players to protest racial injustice. While the NFL tried and failed to institute a rule mandating that everyone stand during the anthem, Silver’s NBA has already had such a rule in place, and with the issue roiling the football world in 2017, he said his “expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.”
However, Silver has shown support in other ways for his players, including allowing them to express themselves on social issues, such as when several of them wore shirts in December 2014 to protest the death of Eric Garner while he was being apprehended by police. As some of those players, including James, wore the shirts during pregame warm-ups, the league could have fined them for violating its policy on official apparel during situations, but Silver and his deputies declined to do so.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman held the position of senior vice president in the NBA before agreeing to lead the hockey league in 1993, but no one has been the commissioner of two major U.S. sports leagues. “I’ve loved every day I’ve been in this job, and I think there’s nothing but enormous opportunity ahead for this league,” Silver told ESPN.
“Ultimately, I realize I’m just passing through like every player who’s gone through this league and ultimately like every owner, and I feel an enormous obligation to the fans and to this greater NBA family to do my best and try my hardest every day,” he continued. “But that’s where 100 percent of my focus is.”
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