MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - DECEMBER 7: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver during a press conference prior to of the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Brooklyn Nets as part of the NBA Mexico Games 2017 on December 7, 2017 at the Arena Ciudad de México in Mexico City, Mexico.
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Lauds Direction of Nuggets Franchise

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver visited Denver on Thursday, meeting with team executives and season-ticket holders as well as taking in the Nuggets game against the Pistons.

Silver took a few minutes prior to the game to sit down with Nuggets.com on a wide-ranging interview that, in part, covered the state of the Nuggets franchise, the impact of Nikola Jokić, and whether the All-Star game could return to the city.

Q: What’s your view of the Nuggets franchise?

A: My view is it’s wonderful to see the things that are going on right now, both from a business standpoint and a basketball standpoint. You may not even know this, but your team is leading the league in growth from last season to this season in terms of ticket sales. So, obviously that’s a great position to be in. Josh Kroenke and his team are doing a wonderful job. There’s a lot of new hires here, a lot of focus on community, drawing more fans in, creating more engagement. And that’s something that we look at on a league-wide basis and compare to other teams. And I’d say its best practices are being put in place here. So, I’m thrilled to see it, as the commissioner.

On the basketball side, I think there’s more transparency from a fan’s standpoint. They see exactly what’s going on. You have a team that’s very competitive. It’s right on the cusp of making the playoffs – there’s obviously a big battle with a group of teams for that eighth spot. I think Mike Malone is doing a wonderful job with these guys. (Executives) Arturas (Karnisovas) and Tim (Connelly)…and that takes time. I appreciate the Kroenke family. They have a lot of expertise in sports. I think there are a lot of similarities with all of the properties they run, that you have to build culture, you need continuity, you need a long-term plan, and that’s what we’re seeing now. From a fan’s standpoint, this is the time to get on board. They’ve got a lot of young players here. Great talent is going to be with this organization for a long time.

Q: Instead of parity, you like to speak of ‘parity of opportunity.’ Is Denver’s rise an example of that?

A: Very much so. And by parity of opportunity I mean that in this league it’s very difficult to create NFL-type parity, the Any Given Sunday notion. Because, an individual player can have such a big impact in this league. Having said that, what we want to see in the league office is management being rewarded. Management that is willing to put the time and resources into building the appropriate culture that has a long-term strategy for building a team. That’s what we’re seeing here in Denver. And I think that all of those pieces are in place now, and I think this market is a wonderful place that clearly can attract great players. And probably, most importantly, what I’m seeing these days from players is they’ll go wherever they need to go to win. And they are going to be attracted to organizations that are willing to make that kind of investment. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here.

Q: Are you seeing it league-wide as well?

A: Yes. What we’re seeing around the league is that – and it’s no secret that when I first got to the league in the early 1990s, at least from an economic standpoint there was an advantage to being in certain markets. Because, most (endorsement) deals for players were local in nature and if you were in a large market, those deals were going to be bigger than in a small or midsize market like Denver. But I think what we’re seeing now is we’re seeing more global influx of players; our games are distributed to 215 countries and territories. The opportunities are truly global. If you talk to Nike, Adidas, Pepsi, the big sponsors of this league, they are marketing their products on a global basis. So, the incremental difference between, let’s say, Denver and Houston isn’t all that important to them anymore because, really, they’re targeting China, and the continent of Africa, and throughout Europe. So, small differences in markets or even significant differences in markets in the U.S. aren’t that meaningful. And from a player’s standpoint, where they get rewarded – both because they are the most competitive people in the world, and they truly want to win – in a cap system they are going to get paid. Where they go there’s always going to be a market where you pay them under a cap system. But, in terms of becoming well-known and being acclaimed and the economic opportunities that come with that, that comes from success. So that’s what you love to see.

Q: Is Nikola Jokić’s rise a boost for a league continually looking to expand its global reach?

A: Basketball is a unique sport in that these players who get acclimated to the game by sort of having a special relationship with fans. I would say in our league – no helmets, no dugout, no cap; tank top, shorts, they play offense and defense – they are fully exposed to our fans. I think it’s one of the reasons they really take to social media. They are always presenting themselves in their complete embodiment to the fans. As part of that, I think our players enjoy that aspect of it. The great players in this league understand that they are entertainers. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s ultimately a sport and it’s about winning on the floor. But I think they enjoy the accoutrements that come with that. In our league, we do produce stars, I don’t think it’s any secret. And the ones who are most successful are stars who work within a system. But I think for Jokić or any of the other international players that come into this league, the ability to have your games this day and age on smartphones where everyone in your hometown can see every game, regardless of where you are in the world, whether it’s in China or whether it’s in Lithuania, is able to watch every one of our games. And what’s amazing to me from just a few years ago, it’s fantastic quality as well. The NBA app and League Pass, it’s quite incredible. Click and there it is. Digital media together with social media is what’s enabling this game to be so global right now.

Q: How quickly do you think every team will have a G-League team, and do you see one for the Nuggets soon?

A: We’re getting there. Next year we’re going to be up to 27 out of 30 teams with G-League franchises. It’s clear that we are marching to 30 teams. I think it’s just a question of a few more years before we get there. There are some special circumstances in some of our markets. The one-and-done issue has been so much in the news lately. Whatever happens in terms of the age, G-League is going to be a big part of that solution.

Q: Do you ever see the All-Star game coming back to Denver?

A: Absolutely. There haven’t been any discussions in the last year or two. But it’s more a function of teams bidding for All Stars. I know we had a great experience, our marketing partners and fans had a great time here in Denver, and we’d love to come back for an All-Star game here.

Q: Is there as much talent in the league, top to bottom, as there ever has been?

A: I see it the same way. I grew up as a fan of the NBA. I’ve been with the league now for 26 years, and I don’t remember a time when night-in and night-out there was so much talent on the floor. When I’m home where I live in New York and I’m watching through League Pass, games around the league on a nightly basis, it’s hard to find a game where there isn’t some particular player or two where that you’re specially focused on – even if they might not be a playoff team this year. … I think aesthetically, there’s some rules changes put in place roughly a decade ago now where it made the game a little less physical, allows players like Steph Curry to do the fantastic things they do on the floor, or James Harden, or Jokić for that matter. I think that’s what really draws fans to the game. To see that great athleticism, those great skills, and then this notion of a jazz ensemble; these individuals come together and really create incredible things night after night. The game’s great. We’re still focused on developing more great junior players. But the ultimate goal is to create a very competitive 30-team league and I think we’re well on our way to accomplishing that.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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