J ust hours before the NBA Draft, Players’ Tribune Contributing Editor and Portland Trailblazers guard C.J. McCollum sat down with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to talk about the NBA season, the future of the league, and a little bit of Jay Z. No question was off limits (even about bachelor parties).
McCollum: This is your first full-time season running the show. What were your biggest takeaways from this year?
Silver: My biggest takeaways were, number one, that the game is in great shape. The fans are really enjoying the style of basketball. It’s a return to a team game, and I’d say therefore that the number two takeaway has been the commitment and dedication I see from our players around the league. I think that while I’ve been involved with the league for a long time, in my role as commissioner, I’m spending more time around players, having the opportunity to talk directly to more players and coaches. I think it’s one thing I wish our fans had a better understanding of, and you can speak to it, just how much hard work goes into being an NBA player day-in, day-out.
My third takeaway is that as I’ve become better known, I end up talking to a lot more fans. I would say I would love to find a way to bottle up the passion the fans bring to our games. They are not a shy group and they make their views known through cheering or jeering. But they are incredibly knowledgeable, and the game is part of their lives. It makes me realize that this is far more than a business. We’re an institution and we’re part of our society.
McCollum: I think you hit it right on the head with the fans. Growing up I was a Cleveland Browns fan and my mood would change based on how they were playing. If they were losing I wasn’t as happy, I wasn’t as excited, I was a little sad. So I can kind of relate to fans when we lose a game, or trades are happening and they’re getting depressed and tweeting like, “C.J., what’s going on?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on!”
Last year when we spoke, we touched a little bit upon the one-and-done rule. You said that you’d like to see the age requirement moved to 20. Have you guys discussed that anymore this year? Or is it more of a CBA / NBA Player’s Association thing?
Silver: It’s something that we continue to discuss in the league office with our teams and the larger basketball community. That includes youth basketball and the NCAA. We have not had any direct conversations with the Player’s Association on the issue. As you know, we cannot unilaterally change the age, that is something that can only be done through collective bargaining. But we’ve made it clear that when we ultimately do return to bargaining, that’s something that we would like to discuss with the players. It’s my view that it would be in the best interest of the league and the Player’s Association to raise the minimum age to 20. But I understand it’s a controversial issue.
McCollum: It definitely is, and you talked about it last year a little bit — increased scouting, and with the extra year obviously the players would get the chance to mature a little bit more and have a better understanding of what it’s like to play in the NBA. Because it’s one thing to see it, but once you live it and experience it you’re like, “Wow, maybe I wasn’t ready.” I did four years of college and I was thinking, Noah Vonleh, who just got traded to our team, he’s 19. He just finished an NBA season. It’s crazy.
We talked about Jay Z last year and you being a fan of his. Obviously you went to his concert at the Barclays Center. I have to ask you, do you have a favorite Jay Z lyric?
Silver: I do have a favorite Jay Z lyric, which I find myself often using in business conversations, and that is, Even a broken clock is right two times a day. From “Guns and Roses.”
McCollum: That’s a good one.
Silver: I may be paraphrasing, but it’s close.
McCollum: A lot of people may not know, but you got married recently. Congratulations!
Silver: Thank you.
McCollum: Was there a bachelor party?
Silver: In essence my bachelor party was a 16 city NBA playoff tour. My fiancee then, my wife now, accompanied me for a large portion of it. She’s a huge NBA fan as well and was actually the captain of her high school basketball team. She may even have a little bit more game than I do. But anyway, we haven’t taken our honeymoon yet. We’re saving that for August.
McCollum: That’s good, I’m glad you enjoyed your bachelor party. Switching gears a little bit to a more serious topic, there were some notable head injuries in the playoffs. Obviously LeBron hit his head on the camera, Klay Thompson got kneed in the head, Steph Curry had a hard fall. What’s the league doing to address head injuries?
Silver: We’re always talking to medical experts and ensuring that we’re up to date on the absolute best science to ensure that our protocol is truly state-of-the-art. I can tell you in terms of LeBron’s injury, we cut back by roughly 50 percent the number of photographers that were placed in the end zones over the last year. But we’re going to take a further look at it. There’s also recognition that the players are bigger, faster and stronger than they were historically, and that we have to find the right balance between the media’s ability to cover our games and, of course, player safety. We have a competition committee meeting coming up in July and we’re going to take a fresh look once again at the precise placements of the still photographers and the camera men on the baseline.
McCollum: That’s good. I sat in on some meetings during the finals on Inside the NBA and they were talking about the cameramen. They asked me about it. I said I noticed the difference. Obviously it’s hard for them to sit in those little boxes and cross their legs. Another big change that the NBA recently implemented is the Last Two Minute Report on referee decisions. I’m a fan of it personally. I like to see whether crucial calls were mistakes or not. I think it’s good that they take that initiative. But what do you think about it?
Silver: I think it has been very well received. And part of what we are stressing in the league is transparency. I think it’s important that our fans understand that while our officials aren’t going to get every call right, it’s critically important that we acknowledge when they don’t. And I think what the Last Two Minute Report also allows for is for fans to see just how often NBA officials are right. I think that ultimately what the reports help with is it keeps us all accountable for our work.
And number two, it strengthens the integrity of our league because fans believe that there’s always going to be conspiracy theories out there. We say if a mistake was made, we acknowledge it, and then we furthermore try to explain why that official made the mistake. For example, using Steve Javie, a former official, on ESPN has been very helpful for educating fans and media when a call is wrong, why did the official get it wrong? Was the official in that moment trying to view a player’s feet rather than a player’s hands for example? Or was the official simply out of position? So I think the Last Two Minute Report has been very helpful towards increasing competence by our officials.
McCollum: We recently had a change in the official NBA socks to Stance. I’m a fan of Stance socks. I’ve worn them a few times. But how did you go about making that change?
Silver: Stance approached us with an interest in producing socks for NBA players. I’d say D-Wade was very influential because he’s into the fashion side of the Stance business. I know he’s an endorser of the company and he looked great in them. So we figured it’s worth us taking a greater look. I’d say they are also a company known for it’s innovation and design, and we’re pleased that we’ve heard directly from a lot of players and fans who think they’re just a terrific product.
McCollum: Hopefully they’re thick. I like thick socks, so I’ll talk to our equipment manager to get some thick Stance socks. This is debated around the country on a daily basis in barber shops, at my house, and in my group chats with my friends … Who’s on your NBA Mount Rushmore?
Silver: Let me begin by saying I don’t think it’s a fair question to the commissioner of the NBA, but I’m not going to try to duck it completely. Let me limit the pool of players first to former players and then number two to former players that I work with on a regular basis. So number one, Bill Russell, who I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time with. He works in the league, and as you know I was just with him in Cleveland when he presented the MVP trophy in the finals. Number two, Michael Jordan, of course one of the owners in our league. Number three, Magic Johnson, who’s a licensee of the league and currently an owner of the WNBA Sparks. And number four, Larry Bird, president of basketball with the Indiana Pacers. So four gentlemen who we work with on a regular basis and who are on anyone’s list of the greatest players, but I’m being a little bit political by carving out the unique pool of former players who work with the league.
McCollum: Strategically planned. No, that’s good. I always struggle making one. Obviously, my generation, I haven’t been able to watch Jordan live. I’ve seen him on tape. And as a kid born in ’91, he’s hitting game winners in the ’90s, so it’s tough for me to really have a say in that.
In European soccer, teams make millions of dollars in sponsorships, and this is something I’ve talked about with my brother, who plays basketball overseas. They have sponsor logos all over their jerseys. We’ve talked about the possibility of the NBA maybe one day having jersey sponsors. Is it OK to have a beer company on a jersey? Overseas, those are the types of companies that sponsor teams. Will we be seeing the Budweiser Blazers?
Silver: That’s a good question. We, of course, allow beer advertising in our league right now. It’s on the courtside signage. We haven’t gotten to the point yet where we’ve looked at what the guidelines will be for when we do have logos on jerseys. So the answer is I don’t know. That’s something that requires further discussions with the teams and with our sponsors.
McCollum: You’ve heard of Riley Curry, the adorable daughter of Steph Curry. And there was a little controversy during the finals. How do you feel about players bringing their kids to the press podium? I’m a fan of it because athletes aren’t always known as being the best fathers, so I like to see it when guys are taking the responsibility of being a good parent and putting their kid on the platform. But how do you feel about it?
Silver: I’m a huge fan of Riley Curry. I was very supportive of Steph having his daughter with him on the podium. My only caveat would be that I think it should be authentic, the way it was with Steph and Riley. It wasn’t staged in any way. It was a genuine moment of emotion between father and daughter. I think it’s also important that the media be able to do their job. Clearly Steph didn’t prevent them or create any issues with answering the questions that were presented to him. So I thought it was a wonderful moment, just seeing a father together with his daughter.
McCollum: Yeah, I enjoyed it. She’s got more followers than me on social media, and she’s two years old. That just shows you how powerful children are. You know I’m a big TV guy, so maybe you can give me a sleeper show to watch. What’s your favorite show right now?
Silver: I may surprise you. In addition to my love of sports, I’m a political junkie. One of my favorite programs is Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. And for the record, I also enjoy Shark Tank, Mark.
McCollum: Oh, my brother loves Shark Tank. Mark’s great on that show. My brother introduced me to that. Favorite basketball movie of all time?
Silver: The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, I don’t know if you know that one. Julius Erving was in it.
McCollum: Okay, now we’re going to wrap it up with something a little outside the box. I’m going to throw topics at you and I want you to say whether it’s On the Table or Nah. Cool?
Silver: Let’s do it.
McCollum: Will the NBA ever raise the basket?
McCollum: Shortened preseason?
Silver: On the table.
McCollum: Yes! I’m a fan of that. A team returning to Seattle?
Silver: No plans to expand right now, maybe down the road.
McCollum: All-Star game in Portland?
Silver: On the table.
McCollum: Yes! Regular season games overseas?
Silver: On the table. No doubt.
McCollum: Making the court bigger?
McCollum: Moving the cameramen further from the court?
Silver: We’re looking at all options to ensure player safety.
McCollum: Great company line. Overseas expansion?
Silver: One day.
McCollum: Will I see that day?
Silver: Not sure.
McCollum: Moving the three-point line back?
McCollum: Adding a four-point line?
McCollum: One-on-one tournament during All-Star weekend?
McCollum: Expansion of D-League?
Silver: On the table.
McCollum: Non-guaranteed contracts like the NFL?
Silver: Nah. We like our system the way it is.
McCollum: Haha. Me too. I like guaranteed. That’s great. I appreciate you taking the time as you have the last few years. I know it’s a busy day for you and as a former draft pick, I thank you.
Silver: Thank you, C.J. you ask great questions. I love spending this time with you every season. We’ve got to do it more often.
McCollum: We may have to do this as a podcast or a video series next year.