Adam Silver: NBA is feeling the New Orleans 'love' (2/15/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer

In his first State of the League address Saturday in the Smoothie King Center, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver alluded to a conversation he had with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu earlier in the day. The enthusiastic and amiable mayor told Silver that “you can feel the love everywhere” for the NBA in the Crescent City these days.

“We definitely feel it,” a smiling Silver told a group of 100-plus media members.

Silver then immediately returned the favor by doling out his appreciation for several New Orleanians, many of whom were instrumental in enabling the city to keep an NBA franchise permanently, as well as host the 2014 All-Star Game. Or both.

“Thank you to (Pelicans owners) Tom and Gayle Benson, not just for hosting the All-Star weekend, but also for ensuring that the Pelicans stayed in New Orleans,” Silver began in his opening statement. “I can’t say enough about the fact that they stepped up and what it means to this community and the NBA.”

The 51-year-old commissioner expressed gratitude to Pelicans executives and local and state officials who played critical roles in the success of the NBA in New Orleans. The city is hosting the All-Star Game for the second time in a six-year span, an unprecedented rapid repeat of the event in the same location.

“I’d like to thank Rita Benson LeBlanc, who I deal with on a daily basis and who oversees the team, along with Dennis Lauscha, two of the best operators in the league,” Silver said of two leaders of New Orleans’ major professional sports franchises. “They happen to be involved with the NBA and the NFL, but they are terrific partners.”

Silver continued to thank Jay Cicero of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and SMG’s Doug Thornton for their roles in organizing and hosting All-Star 2014. “Without you, we wouldn’t be here (for All-Star),” Silver said. “For the entire New Orleans community, the outreach has been tremendous. Doug Thornton and SMG, the people who operate this arena, now the Smoothie King Center, one of the best-run arenas in the league. Doug (is) someone who first-hand brought this community back after Katrina. Also my new best friend, Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He and I have spent so much time together over the last couple days. For anybody who’s lost faith in politics, anywhere in the world, he is absolutely one of the smartest and hardest-working mayors in any city in America, and he’s a joy to work with. Also to Governor Bobby Jindal, thank you as well.”

In a lengthy 45-minute address, Silver also addressed numerous other NBA-related leaguewide issues:
• Silver favors exploring the idea of raising the age minimum for players to 20. In multiple instances Saturday, he noted that he has heard from fans that the one-and-done scenario is hurting college basketball, as well as the NBA. He said many players might benefit from more seasoning prior to entering the pro ranks.
• On the introduction of sleeved jerseys in 2013-14, Silver said the league is going to continue to assess options, but that feedback from fans has been positive in terms of sales. He said that the league’s intention was never to change the basic uniform shirt for players, which has been a tank top for many decades.
• Silver does not foresee expansion in the near future from the league’s current 30 teams, saying that his focus right now is to first ensure that the 30 existing franchises are all financially viable and on good footing.
• Like on the topic of sleeved jerseys, the league is exploring ideas for tweaking or changing the draft lottery system. Silver even told a reporter that if the scribe has a proposal for how to improve the lottery, he should send it to Silver at the league office.