The setting was as exotic as it gets for NBA news conferences: Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf. One of the questions to NBA commissioner Adam Silver was about Victor Wembanyama, the lanky French teenager who already is looking like the most coveted No. 1 draft sensation since LeBron James two decades ago.
So it seemed only natural that topics focused on change and the future when Silver met Thursday with international reporters. He spoke before the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks played their first of two NBA preseason games here, the finale set for Saturday.
“I’ve now been with the NBA for 30 years,” Silver said. “I think in the next five years, we’ll see a lot more development than we saw over the last 30 years. There’s that much change going on in the presentation of sports right now.”
Silver standing in Abu Dhabi conducting the sort of news conference typically held at NBA Finals and All-Star Games is a sign of the league’s growth and progress already. While these are the first games staged in the Gulf Region, the NBA product has been available via telecasts for about 35 years, he said.
Players and coaches have visited for clinics and Basketball Without Borders programs for three decades, and the Middle East and North Africa have produced an estimated 25 NBA players through the years.
“For me, it’s the culmination of many decades of work here,” Silver said.
So what’s next in terms of game presentation, he was asked.
“One of the things we’re working on right now is the distribution of the games,” the commissioner said. “That is, the ease of accessibility of the games. Part of why we launched this new [NBA] app this year is that it’s broadly available. … We recognize it has to be convenient for the fans to get our games. Not to be searching in many different places, different apps, different networks to try to find us.”
Ahead of the 2022-23 season, the league launched the new reimagined NBA App to be an all-in-one destination for fans of every team.
To celebrate the new app, the league released its campaign, “This is HAPPENING,” to get fans excited about all the NBA App has to offer. pic.twitter.com/4ImwtmPcz7
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) October 6, 2022
Streaming platforms and video technology increasingly will enable fans to tailor their viewing. “Customization, personalization,” Silver termed it.
“To the extent you want to follow a particular player, you want more data as you’re watching the game, you want to be chatting with your friends or part of a larger conversation with experts,” he said. “All of those things are beginning to happen now in sports, but I feel like we’re just scratching the surface.”
Other topics raised by reporters:
• Silver cited the “density” of the 82-game schedule as a challenge in having teams play twice, rather than just once, when sent to overseas destinations for regular-season games. This season, Miami and San Antonio will play in Mexico City on Dec. 17. Chicago and Detroit will travel for a game in Paris on Jan. 19.
“Even just playing one game in Europe, to adjust for the time, to adjust for the travel, to adjust for a bit of jet lag when they get back, it already causes a ripple effect on the schedule,” he said. “I know our teams, given that they’re making the trip already, would just as soon play twice.”
• Two of the league’s brightest stars, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic — who have won the past four Kia Most Valuable Player awards — drew high praise.
“Where do I start? I’ll start with Giannis the person,” Silver said. “He’s just an incredible young man. I can say, seeing him here in Abu Dhabi, he just loves to interact with the people here. He stays extra to be with the young people at the clinics. He’s very welcoming. He’s, I feel very much, a global citizen. He represents Greece incredibly well. Obviously, his parents are from Africa and now [he is] living in the United States.
“He brings true joy to the game. You can see it in his style of play and his relationship with his teammates. And of course, Giannis as a player is a multiple MVP. Someone who plays through injuries. Someone who plays always with incredible passion. Has taken the game to the highest level, yet puts the extra time in the gym to continue to develop his game. He’s a commissioner’s dream.”
Silver recycled superlatives when asked about Jokic.
“All the wonderful things I said about Giannis, ditto for Nikola,” he said. “Also an incredible young man. A big man but a different style in many ways than Giannis. Truly a magician with the ball. Represents Serbia incredibly well. I’m not going to put odds out there on his chances of winning the MVP again, but another player who’s just a joy to watch.”
• The buzz about Wembanyama traveled the 8,211 miles from Henderson, Nev., to Abu Dhabi, sparking a question about the assumed tantalizing prize of the 2023 NBA Draft. Silver said he watched the exhibition clash Tuesday on the new NBA app between the tall, improbably skilled youngster’s Metropolitans 92 team and Scoot Henderson’s G League Ignite squad.
“I think I could be jinxing a player who hasn’t come into the NBA yet by me anointing him as ‘the next great one,’” Silver said. “But he certainly has all the attributes of a true game-changer. The physical wherewithal. He certainly seems to have the mind to be a great player. He stepped up on that big stage against the Ignite.
The commissioner added: “I know that many of our NBA teams are salivating at the notion that potentially through our lottery they could get him. … Unlike players of an older generation, games were accessible to him — it wasn’t just about watching old videotapes that Ahmad Rashad produced from the old days. He could model his game after certain players.
“So, I’m real excited to watch his development this year.”
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