My Interview With Commissioner Silver

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C.J. McCollum, Guard / Portland Trail Blazers - The Players' Tribune

One of my favorite times of the year is when I get the opportunity to sit down with our commissioner, Adam Silver, and put my journalism degree to work. This is the third season in a row that the commissioner has granted me time for a sit-down, and we’ve got a special treat for you this year — video to go along with the traditional Q&A.

So watch the video, and if you want to read our full conversation — including an in-depth discussion of Draymond Green’s suspension, the upcoming CBA negotiations and jersey sponsorships — you can find it below.

I hope you enjoy it. 

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C.J. McCollum
First and foremost, I want to thank you for coming on again and agreeing to do a video. You agreed to it and you followed through. I know how busy your schedule can be, especially on draft day, so I honestly do appreciate that.

Adam Silver
And let me also say to you, first of all, you look totally different from when we first started doing this. This is our third year. Not to say you ever had any baby fat or anything but you’ve been working hard. I mean like honestly, I see it in your body. You look trimmer. You look tighter. And Most Improved Player of the year this year in the NBA. No, I mean it, C.J. And your team over-exceeded — I’m sure from your standpoint, if you didn’t win the championship, you underdelivered. But you, in terms of what the public thought, what the Trail Blazers did this year. I know you averaged over 20 points a game this year. It’s really, really fantastic what you guys achieved on the floor. So congratulations.

McCollum
Thank you. I appreciate that. And I agree with you, I was a little chubby. A little chubby.

Silver
I didn’t say that!

McCollum
No, it’s O.K. because I was. My trainers tell me all the time my body fat was a little on the high side and I’ve since, you know, improved my nutrition, done a lot of those small things to kind of put myself over the hump so a long time coming. I dress a little bit more nicely. Hahahaha.

Silver
Wait, wait — that was next. Upgrade the wardrobe a little bit, too.

McCollum
Yeah, I’ve collected a few paychecks now so I’m able to slip in a little bit of extra money.

And I agree with you, I was a little chubby. A little chubby.

Silver
Well, you look good.

McCollum
But I appreciate you doing this for The Players’ Tribune and the NBA, and I’m sure everybody looks forward to reading some of this content. And I’ll start with some easier questions. I’ll start with some easier ones. Your handshakes, you do a lot of the “dap” handshakes when players are drafted. Tell us the history of this and kind of when you started doing that because I know a lot of people have noticed it.

Silver
You know, I wish I could claim there was a history and it was all that thoughtful.

McCollum
Hahaha.

Silver
Really, I respond to people shaking my hands and it’s really more a question of their style. And sometimes, I think the same for you that some people kind of reach out and go like this, some people are sort of like this, some people are huggers. And I follow their lead. I will say, I tend to be a fairly physical person, so if somebody wants to hug I’m happy to hug back.

You know, just now, you were there. We had a luncheon with all tonight’s draft picks and many of them had their families there with them. And it’s interesting, I’ve been at the league for 24 years now and I used to feel that I was at least closer in age to some of the draft picks. I was 30 when I first started at the league. Then I felt I was roughly the same age as the parents. Now I’m the same age as the grandparents. I was doing a lot of hugging, but a lot of grandparents and a lot of parents. It just depends on the situation. I can’t say I really think all that much about it.

McCollum
Well, we appreciate you adjusting on the fly. We understand that, you know, there’s gonna be grandparents, there’s gonna be younger kids, there’s gonna be 10-year-olds that are just going up for the cool high fives up top, so we notice it and I felt like we had to address it. We’re in 2016. The draft is today. Who’s the most interesting person you met in 2016?

Silver
Hmm. First of all, I’m so fortunate that in this job, I get to meet all kinds of people. Many of whom aren’t well known, but just interesting people that I meet every day. People who come up to me and say they’re a fan of the NBA.

You know, one name that comes to mind. I was at a conference down in Washington, D.C., and I met the Surgeon General of the United States, a guy named Vivek Murthy who is, in essence, our nation’s top doctor, and he was a really interesting person to talk to because we talked a lot about physical fitness. And he is one of those people who’s saying there is a miracle drug right now in this country, and it’s exercise. And part of, as you know, our NBA Cares program is to encourage boys and girls to become more physically active. Do it playing basketball, but be more physically active.

And I really enjoyed meeting Dr. Murthy and I felt I really connected with him. And in fact, I had him come, later on, and speak to — at an owners meeting just to talk about those values of exercise, fitness, people working together. So if I had to pick one person, it would be the Surgeon General.

McCollum
Yeah, that’s, that’s incredible being able to experience that and see the importance of exercise and as we notice in sports.

Silver
Look at you!

McCollum
You’re doing a good job, too, and I know you like to walk the dogs, too.

Silver
Mine is stress. Yours is exercise.

McCollum
Hahaha. Well hey, we all have different stresses, so … I was at All-Star this year. I experienced it again for the second year in a row. This time, I competed — not in the actual game, but I did the three-point contest. Early exit for myself and I also lost in another event, but it was a fun experience nonetheless. My question for you is: Looking at the NFL, a lot of times they do it in remote locations. Have you thought about potentially doing [the All-Star Game] in Hawaii or somewhere else to give the fans a different look?

Silver
You know, we have thought about it and, especially, we’ve considered doing our All-Star Game internationally. People — as you know, we play regular-season games in London. We have for the past several seasons. We’ve played many games in Paris and Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, other great international cities. The ultimate issue is travel. And as you know, one of the things that you and I have been talking about over the years is finding ways to reduce the number of back-to-back games, the number of four-out-of-five games.

I hope you’ve noticed this past season and in fact, even in the Finals this year, we spread it out a little bit to give guys more rest, because what the science is telling us is that the number one correlation between play and injuries is fatigue. And maybe you noticed it for yourself, especially being up in the northwest, in Portland, you guys travel a lot of miles, and crossing the three-hour time zones, the lack of sleep and everything.

So the reason I’m mentioning all of that — if we were to try to play our All-Star at a remote location, for example to go to Europe or go to Hawaii, we’re gonna need more days for recovery, which is gonna put more pressure on the regular season. So that’s the main reason we’re not doing it right now. And also, our season is much longer than the NFL’s. Maybe people don’t think about that. But you know, they have I think a 16-game season, eight home games. Of course we have an 82-game season plus our playoffs. It’s a lot of extra days. Last year, our opening training camp was on September 26th and here we are at the draft — [The Finals] just finished on Sunday. That’s a really long year.

So it’s something we’d love to try to figure out one day. I know it’s one of the topics that the players’ association is talking about, the length of the preseason and the number of games we play in the preseason. I think one day it would be really exciting to find a way, especially in one of those great international cities, to bring our All-Star Game there.

McCollum
Yeah, I think I never really thought about that until I went to All-Star and I flew to Mexico right afterwards and that was like, the turnaround was quick. I ended up flying back into Portland the same day as practice. Risky, but it worked out.

Silver
No, but I’m telling you. And — talk to the Surgeon General … I mean, be careful because fatigue, you tend to move your body in different positions. Combination of overexertion, lack of sleep can lead to injury, and that’s what we’re really focused on with our players.

McCollum
Yeah, that’s something — I’ll pass the message along to my teammates and I know they’re looking forward to that. Speaking of the NFL, we talked about a little bit, the NFL cracks down on celebrations. They flag guys for penalties. I know they’re cutting back on spiking the balls, but in the NBA, we’re seeing guys like Russell Westbrook, you know, he’s doing his dances, all that type of stuff before the games. Do you think players should tone it down or do you like us showing off our personalities?

I love guys being able to celebrate. I’m a huge fan of Russell Westbrook’s, and I think he’s a guy who does it just right.

Silver
I don’t think players should tone it down. I mean, and I think one of the things  about NBA players — you guys are so exposed when you’re out there. You’re not deep into dugouts and far away from the fans in the stands. You’re obviously not under helmets and enormous padding and full-body uniforms. And I think some personal expression is part of this league. I think, of course, we have rules sort of designed mainly within the course of the game that guys, in essence, don’t overdo it. You know, there’s that line between what is authentic celebration and [what is] called taunting. And over the years, we’ve done a lot to try to cut down on what is taunting. Because what happens with taunting, often that can lead to physical altercations, which nobody wants.

So on one hand, I love the personal expression. I love guys being able to celebrate. I’m a huge fan of Russell Westbrook’s, and I think he’s a guy who does it just right. You just want to make sure it’s not done in guys’ faces in a way that’s then perceived as taunting.

McCollum
Yeah, I definitely agree. I think, in moderation, taunting is a part of life. As long as you’re not overly explicit with your actions. And if he’s just dancing with his teammates, that’s something we all do. Cavs got handshakes. Everybody’s got something that kind of shows the camaraderie.

Silver
Right, which we’ve done in a way that builds your confidence and is a way of celebrating but isn’t disrespectful to the other players.

McCollum
So we’ve implemented sponsorships on jerseys this year. I think there was a bit of an experiment last year. I see … we had Moda Health on our practice jerseys so I kind of knew it was coming. With my brother playing in Europe, I’ve seen it for a long time. My question is, looking at the jerseys now, I don’t think we have social media yet. There’s no social media on the jerseys. Will we do that at some point because I know it could be very profitable in the future?

Silver
Well, you gotta talk to your team. So what we have in place now is a program that’s gonna begin — not this coming season, but the following season — where it’s a team’s right to sell a logo on the, in essence, the breast portion of the jersey. We’re moving to Nikes, I think you know, too. And so there’ll be a swoosh, and right now there is no branding whatsoever other than the NBA logo on our jerseys. So there’s gonna be a swoosh, and on the other side of the jersey, it’s a team’s right to sell that sponsor.

McCollum
They decide. Oh, O.K.

Silver
So your team owner, Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, one of the original tech guys, I think it’s a great conversation to have with him. That — and to me, a social media company would be really interesting because there’s the double benefit. And that’s part of the reason that we’re doing these sponsorships. In addition, obviously, to being good for business, it allows a promotion on a global basis.

For example, people to tweet about our game. Or people to go on Facebook or follow it. Or be on Snapchat. Or any of the great social media platforms. So I think it’s a really great idea. Please talk to Paul Allen about it.

So there’s gonna be a swoosh, and on the other side of the jersey, it’s a team’s right to sell that sponsor.

McCollum
I will. I know he’s very busy. But when I see him — I’m sure I’ll be seeing him shortly and the draft’s coming up, we have a lot of money, flexibility, I’ll be asking him a few questions about how we can help generate more money and exposure for us.

Silver
And just to be clear, the exposure is almost more important. I mean in terms of generating money, there’s lots of things we do as a league. And, of course, the players are partners with the owners. But I see these opportunities on jerseys mainly as an opportunity to do additional promotion for the league. Because think about it, if — especially some of the international companies — if they put their name on an NBA jersey, it’s not as if they’re gonna stop there. They’re then gonna be spending their own advertising dollars outside of the NBA to promote that association. And that’s what’s gonna help build this league additionally around the world.

McCollum
That’s true. I didn’t look at it that way. Well, on the topic of Instagram, you have an Instagram. I’ve been checking you out. When I first saw the Adam Silver page, it wasn’t verified, so I wasn’t sure. I was like, “Is this Adam or is it not Adam?” He’s posting a lot of, you know, inside-scoop picture that obviously you had to have certain camera men in certain positions. And once you got verified, I said, “O.K., it is Adam.”

Tell me a little about your Instagram. It’s pretty fire. You have a lot of great photos. You’re posting some behind-the-scenes action. To find those locker-room scenes with LeBron with the do-rag on, and guys kind of icing their feet or listening to music. Tell me about your Instagram.

Silver
Well, first of all, look for the posting later today of you at this interview.

McCollum
Yesssss.

Silver
So my idea with the Instagram account, and same with Facebook, was: I have all this incredible behind-the-scenes access. It’s the ultimate, you know, backstage pass. And I’ve been at the league for over 20 years and I’ve seen all kinds of great things. And when social media began developing, I thought, “What a great opportunity to share with other people what it’s like behind the scenes.” Because everybody wants that backstage pass. So if you notice, I’m not in any of the pictures. Or hardly any of them. It’s always from my perspective. Some of them, I shoot myself with my smart phone. Often, as you see, there’s so many camera folks around the NBA that I can get them to send me the pictures and then I post them. But it’s just a fun way of allowing people to experience the stuff that you and I get to see every day, really, behind the scenes at the league.

McCollum
Yeah, I think you do a great job of capturing moments. Not a lot of like, people kind of staring at the camera.

Silver
Yeah, that’s the idea, that it shouldn’t be the same shot that anybody could get. A posed shot, you know, where it’s stand for the cameraman. The idea is, Let’s get people at work doing things — or sometimes it’s celebrities coming to our games who are walking behind the scenes in the tunnel. That’s the notion, just to share that with people.

McCollum
Hey, well, I just want to commend you. You’re doing a good job. I’m taking notes. I’ve been trying to mix it up. A lot of my pictures are just me looking at the camera, so now I’m more cognizant of it. I’m changing it up.

Silver
Hahaha.

McCollum
I touched on the Finals a little bit. I’m gonna get back to that. A couple hot topics. Obviously, there was a lot that went on the Finals. There was a lot of publicity. You know, LeBron won the championship, bringing one back to the Land. Steph Curry trying to repeat. And being up 3–1 — being down 3–1 in the series before that — so I know ratings were up, through the roof.

You had a tough decision to make on the Draymond Green suspension, so my question for you is what was kind of going through your mind that night before you went to sleep. You had to kind of make a decision. Obviously, there’s a process where you’re able to review it and kind of see what you want to do. And the momentum of the Finals … you have a tough decision to make. Cavs down, I think it was 3–1? Cavs were down, so does that weigh on your mind in terms of what you’re thinking about and how to go about assessing the suspension or a flagrant 1?

Silver
So, it’s a great question. Let me just begin by saying, I don’t want to personalize it to me because we have a Basketball Operations department. It’s run by Kiki Vandeweghe, former Trail Blazer and former great college player, pro player, coached in the league, was a general manager in this league. So he and a group of his colleagues, in essence, do the review. I mean, ultimately I’m responsible for the ultimate decision, but there is a process. And I always think it’s important to clarify that we did not suspend Draymond Green.

What happened was, he had three flagrant foul points and, as you know, the rule is — and it’s been the rule for over 20 years in this league — that over the course of the playoffs, [if] you accumulate four flagrant foul points, you get automatically suspended for the next game.

So the decision for the league wasn’t whether: Should Draymond Green be suspended? It was: Was that act he committed on the floor, that retaliatory act where he made contact with LeBron’s groin, is that a flagrant 1? And that was the decision facing the league.

And to your point, of course we’re aware of the consequences of our decision. But the immediate decision, Is that a flagrant? And we do the best we can in those situations. Obviously from a league standpoint, we hate to see players suspended in key games. We like everything always to be decided just on the floor but it’s part of our jobs to make those decisions.

McCollum
Yeah, and it’s a tough decision to be able to make. And to be put in that position, obviously, like you said, you got Kiki, you got guys in place, so I’m sure that makes it a lot easier.

Staying on the topic of NBA, moving more closely to ownership, GMs, I have to ask you, we have one of the most diverse pro leagues in terms of minorities in the game. A lot of guys from overseas, Europe, etc. There are only a small handful of minority owners and GMs. So what do you think we can kind of do to promote change, and is there something we can kind of do as an NBA as a whole, or is it the players’ association coming together collectively to kind of mentor more people to put them in a position so that they can be coaches, GMs, positions of management?

Silver
Yeah, I think it’s something we all have to focus on. It’s not any one person’s job. There’s things that we can do institutionally. For example, the NBA added a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, someone who talks to the league, talks to all our teams, keeps the data. Because one of the things is, it has to be top of mind. You need to be thinking of that matter all the time. And you also need to be talking about the business benefits of being a diverse and inclusive organization.

It’s not just about checking a box and saying, “Here’s the data.” And so in addition to Chief Diversity Officer, we also began a new program this summer at the league office where former players are gonna come in into our Basketball Operations department, the department run by Kiki. We’re gonna take a group of former players and help, in essence, train them to become general managers, learn the salary cap system, build those relationships around the league so that when teams are looking for associate general managers, when teams are looking for general managers, there’s this pool of applicants that are well-trained coming out of the league.

You know, in addition, there are probably more former players as owners than most of the public is aware of. I mean, I would just say, of course there’s Michael Jordan. Great example, owner of the Charlotte Hornets. But many people might not know that David Robinson is a part owner of the Spurs; that Penny Hardaway is a part owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. Shaq is a part owner of Sacramento. Grant Hill just bought into the Atlanta Hawks. So we are very focused on it but we can always do more. And I think part of the way to do more is you both need to talk about it with the players’ association, with our owners, with the teams, but also put in place programs to ensure that there’s a pipeline of great applicants coming up the system.

McCollum
Yeah, I agree. I think that preparation is key. Putting them in a position so that they’re ready to be hired — and not just hired because they’re a minority. So I think that’s good. And I’ll address that in our meeting on Sunday. We have a players’ association meeting and I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring that up. The next CBA discussion is set to begin in 2017. So how do relations between the league and the union compare now versus back in 2011 when we were facing a potential lockout? 

Silver
It’s hard to make the comparison because it’s different people. Of course, it was Billy Hunter then as the executive director. Now it’s Michelle Roberts. I’ll just say that, speaking for myself, I feel that we have a great relationship. I think that Michele is doing a tremendous job. She’s very focused on the well-being of the players. She’s doing a terrific job getting out there, hearing directly from the players, talking to the agents, meeting people around the NBA family so that she knows what the issues are.

I mean, for example, I know that you guys have this meeting you just mentioned on Sunday. She talks to her constituents just like I talk to my constituents. And I think that part of negotiating deals is building relationships and building trust. And I feel we’re doing that now. I mean, you said the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2017, but actually the opt-out period comes in December of this year, in 2016. And it’s something that Michelle and I are both very focused on.

Chris Paul is the president of your union — was just in the league office meeting recently. We’re very much engaged in discussions and the goal is to get a deal done as soon as possible.

McCollum
Yeah, I, for one, hope we can get a deal done as soon as possible and I think that we will, but a lot of fans out there are just hoping and praying and asking me all the time, “Do you think there’s gonna be a lockout? Do you think there’s gonna be a lockout?” I’m like, “This is not 2011. It’s not 2011.”

Silver
Right. And our goal from the fan standpoint would be, just for them to one day hear, “We have a new deal,” or an extension of the current deal and everybody’s focused on the game.

McCollum
In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, and following the anti-LGBTQ laws in North Carolina, is there any consideration to move next year’s All-Star Game to another city? I know it’s been discussed and all that stuff.

Silver
It’s been discussed. It’s still my hope that the All-Star Game will remain in Charlotte, North Carolina. We’ve had ongoing discussions with both the government and the business community in North Carolina and Charlotte. Of course we have a team in Charlotte. That team, that I mentioned earlier, owned by Michael Jordan. They very much want the game to stay there and there’s people, well-intentioned people, who are both focused on potential changes in the law and also ensuring that if the All-Star Game does take place in North Carolina, it’s the most inclusive possible environment for the game to take place. So those discussions are ongoing but it is still my hope that at the end of the day, the game remains in Charlotte.

McCollum
Yeah, well I look forward to seeing what happens. And I appreciate you coming on again. I know how busy you are. C.J. McCollum with the Commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver. Thanks again.

Silver
Thank you, C.J.

McCollum
Enjoy the rest of your day.

Silver
You, too.

CJ_Signature_Black

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