Things are not going to change much. There will come a time, just a few years into his tenure as commissioner, when Adam Silver will walk out on the stage at the NBA Draft and be instantly booed by fans. Just as David Stern has been for years.
A lot of things will stay the same. In 15 months, when Adam Silver takes over for David Stern, there are not going to be big changes for the NBA. The league is going to still be pushing its brand internationally, it will still be trying to negotiate larger television deals, it will still be trying to figure out how to make the digital space work for them, it will still be about protecting the league’s image. Mostly, it will still be about making money for the owners, with the players getting a cut of the pie.
Yet there are plenty of people around the NBA happy to see the change coming because they see Silver bringing a softer side, a more inquisitive and open mind to the big desk.
David Stern is an old-school, alpha-male businessman. His trademark dry sense of humor has come off as both funny and harsh. Stern has a temper. He can be condescending. Stern likes things done just so and isn’t afraid to intimidate to get it. Stern can be charming, and he can put people off.
Silver, due to both age and temperament, just handles things differently. People feel like he listens to them, that you can have a conversation with him. This could bode well for things like player relations — after things such as the dress code and more Stern is not loved among players. Chris Paul’s first reaction (and he was involved in the CBA negotiations) was to say he feels he can talk to Silver. That’s a start.
During the lockout, Silver was often the league’s attack dog at press conferences, the bad cop taking the more strident owners’ side, which allowed Stern to sound softer. Silver had to do that to get Stern’s job someday — Silver had to show the owners he would fight for them and their pocketbooks. That he could get down and dirty if he needed to.
That was the show, but Silver is still seen as a guy teams can have a conversation with on issues, that he has an open mind. Stern is a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, a friendly ear in talks can go a long way.
But starting a year from February, Silver is going to have to be the guy that says no sometimes. He’s the decision maker, and not all his decisions will be popular. It is Silver that will have to deal with the Sacramento situation (although Stern is trying to get that resolved), and whatever city is the next Seattle or Sacramento. Silver is going to have to deal with flopping and whatever is the next big on-the-court issue after that.
Silver will at some future date have to make decisions that will anger fans or players or some other owners. He can’t just be the good cop anymore.
And he’s not going to dramatically change the course of the good ship NBA. Things will remain pretty much as they are.
Just with less ego at the top. And that can be a good thing.