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Silver touches on NBA diversity, expansion, China in wide-ranging press conference

2021 NBA Finals - Game One

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 6: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media prior to the game of the Milwaukee Bucks against the Phoenix Suns in Game One of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 6, 2021 at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Adam Silver was generally optimistic about all-things NBA on Tuesday.

That comes with the job of being NBA Commissioner, but Silver would have been forgiven if he were a little more gloomy following a season altered by the pandemic that both cost the league money and led to a rash of injuries. But during his annual pre-finals press conference, Silver was generally optimistic.

Silver covered a wide range of issues at this press conference.

• Talking about next season, Silver said he expects the play-in tournament to return, adding that it still must be negotiated with the players union.

“Overall, it was very positive for the league and the players,” Silver said. “Certainly there’d been some suggestions about some tweaks we should consider, but again, I think once we bring it back to our owners for a vote and the Players Association meets and has an opportunity to consider it, it’s my expectation that it will continue for next season.”

He also said not to expect international travel for preseason games this coming season, as parts of the world still are battling the pandemic, but the following preseason could see a resumption of international games.

• When asked about the diversity of hirings around the NBA — there are now 10 Black head coaches, up from seven last season after a round of hirings after the season — Silver said the league was making steps in the right direction, but also still had a long way to go.

“We have seen positive developments there in terms of the number of vacancies that are being filled,” Silver said. “I will say that not unlike a lot of organizations that are dealing with diversity issues, this is something that requires daily attention. So again, positive movement in that direction, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels there.”

He said the focus needs to be broader than coaches and look at the front offices around the league as well. There are some diverse faces in that crowd — Suns GM James Jones being one — but more is needed. He emphasized that point when talking about gender diversity.

“In terms of women, it’s a little bit frustrating,” Silver said. “It’s an area where even just looking around the room here, you would like to see more women represented in the room here today, in all aspects of our business. We have historically made more progress on race rather than on gender. But I think that’s beginning to change. It’s slow. It’s frustrating. But it’s the work that we have to do every day to change awareness and then develop pools of candidates as well.”

• When asked about expansion, Silver pumped the breaks on the idea. It has been widely reported that owners were open to adding a couple more teams — with Seattle and Las Vegas being the early frontrunners — because they want the cash in hand after the losses due to the pandemic. Silver pushed back on the idea of rapid expansion.

“In terms of expansion, you know, I know that was reported that when revenues were down we were looking more seriously at expansion. I mean, it didn’t work exactly like that, largely because expansion is a multi-year process. So it wasn’t as if the pandemic came, we’re 40 percent down, we can quickly collect some expansion revenue...
“The most important considerations for us when we look at expansion is, will it ultimately grow the pie? Meaning it’s potentially 30 more jobs if you expand with two teams. You expand the league’s footprint. How does that help us in varying ways, sort of increased support nationally. So we’ll continue to look at it. I mean, I’ve said this many times before, we’re certainly not suggesting we’re locked at 30 teams.

“I think at some point it will make sense to expand, but it’s just not at the top of the agenda right now.”

It was expected the owners would take up expansion talks again in 2022.

• Silver was fairly open when discussing the NBA’s relationship with China, which has been more on edge both due to Daryl Morey’s Tweets in support of Hong Kong protesters and the general climate between the United States and China.
“It’s hard to divorce what’s happening with the NBA from larger geopolitical issues between the U.S. and China,” Silver said. “I do think it remains important, that particularly when tensions are high between governments, that we foster these sports, educational, cultural relationships...

“It certainly doesn’t mean that we are blessing everything that happens in China by any means. We are at root an American company, and so we follow U.S. government policy. But it’s my expectation that we will continue to distribute our games in China... and that we can play a productive role in helping the people of the United States and the people of China have a better understanding of each other, and see that we’re all human beings and that there is commonality between us.”