Four months into his new job, commissioner Adam Silver has kept his cool a lot better than AT&T Center in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Neither Donald Sterling nor faulty a circuit breaker has cramped Silver’s style.
His first Finals news conference, prior to Game 2, was much like his first major press conference six weeks earlier. Both can serve as case studies in crisis management, handling a disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner and fallout from San Antonio’s Game 1 victory in oppressive conditions.
The issues are no way similar in long-term impact and consequences. Donald Sterling is more like a massive hurricane compared to the solitary lightning bolt of “Heat-gate.” But they represent the biggest flashes in Silver’s brief stint and isn’t looking for new candidates anytime soon.
LeBron James’ severe cramps in the opener hijacked the Finals’ storyline for three days. “I’m glad that this isn’t single elimination,” Silver said.
“… I would say that [the lack of AC] is certainly not one of my prouder moments in my short tenure as commissioner so far, but it’s the nature of this game. There always are going to be human and mechanical errors and it’s unfortunate.”
However, all of the crazy talk about a Spurs’ conspiracy and James being a wimp didn’t topple the Clippers from atop Silver’s to-do list. The first two questions dealt with the team’s pending sale to Steve Balmer and pending litigation by Sterling. Silver responded to 22 queries overall and 14 involved the Clippers.
“I take very seriously the fact that [Sterling] has a pending lawsuit against the league,” he said. “So I want to make sure that’s resolved before we say this is behind us, but I have absolute confidence it will be.”
Four inquiries focused on the broken air conditioner. The Spurs didn’t issue an official announcement until the third quarter, when the heat already was uncomfortably obvious. “In hindsight it wasn’t handled perfectly, but they’d never been confronted with that issue before,” Silver said. “I’ve been with the league office for more than 22 years now and I’d never dealt with a situation like that before.
“We were monitoring conditions on the floor, in constant contact and discussion with the officials, and there was never a point where we were considering either postponing or cancelling the game.”
He talked about getting past Sterling and AC and moving on “to better topics and back to the Finals.” That’s exactly what happened in Game 2, a delightful display of high-level team hoops and individual brilliance.
There were 17 lead changes and 12 ties as James willed Miami to victory with 35 points and 10 rebounds. Coach Erik Spoelstra won his chess match against Greg Popovich after losing in Game 1. The Heat extended its streak to 13 consecutive postseason victories following a loss.
Putting the focus back on the court was great. But this Finals’ rematch brings up another point that was raised during Silver’s news conference: competitive balance.
Either the Spurs or Lakers have represented the Western Conference in 13 of the last 16 Finals. Miami is in its fourth consecutive Finals. The brand of ball we’ve seen during stretches of the first two games seems light-years ahead of other teams.
Salary caps are intended to spread talent throughout and keep major markets from dominating sheerly by the size of their checkbooks. In the league’s defense, Silver noted that all four teams in the conference finals (including Indiana and Oklahoma City) hailed from the league’s bottom half in terms of market size.
But shrewd front-office decisions can’t be legislated anymore than free agents’ intentions to join forces.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the Spurs and the Heat,” Silver said. “While the players are a critical component, the players were attracted and remained in those markets because of the quality of the coaching and the quality of the management, and hats off to these organizations. And my sense is the better-managed organizations are going to be successful regardless of the system.”
Organizations have plenty to consider with a bevy of free agents about to hit the market. And the next player-intake system could involve changes to the “one-and-done” rule.
No matter what happens, Silver, like his predecessor, David Stern, is bullish on the NBA.
“In terms of the league, what I’m most pleased about is the state of the game,” he said. “As I said earlier, it’s truly a basketball renaissance and that’s at all levels. Record popularity, our ratings were up for the first game, never had more discussion about the NBA on social media … I’m very confident about the future.
But he won’t mind if the hot issues cool off.
At least for the rest of his first year.