50 Most Influential: No. 1 — Adam Silver
NBACHANGE FROM 2015: +1
Few leaders make it look so easy.
Silver always seems to be ahead of the game and out front in anticipating the next trends. Across sports, people admire how the 54-year-old continues to make all the right moves in running the NBA and pushing the industry to think differently. Pretty impressive for someone who stepped into the formidable shoes of David Stern less than three years ago.
Silver’s influence has never been greater, as he presides over a league that this year will reach more than
$8 billion in revenue. Franchise values are soaring, revenue is skyrocketing, a new labor deal is expected any day and the game itself is as healthy as it’s ever been.
It’s an uncanny mix of style and substance that Silver brings to the table. Sure, it is easier to bring labor peace during an era of unprecedented prosperity, but Silver’s collective-bargaining playbook also involved creating a far more respectful and productive relationship with the new management of the players union. He has improved player relations by decreasing the number of back-to-back games and lengthening the all-star break, all while encouraging players to speak out on social issues. The respect he has among players is unique in sports because they feel Silver listens.
Silver navigates difficult terrain with an open and transparent approach. His expertise in handling controversies such as the league’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of North Carolina due to the state’s controversial HB2 law has deepened his impact within the industry and makes the league look as progressive and socially responsible as any sports property. He also expertly navigated the national anthem protests that hit major sports this fall by staying in front of the issue and communicating with players and teams.
On the business front, Silver has no fear in expanding the league’s boundaries. Consider that the NBA this year became the first of the U.S. major stick-and-ball leagues to allow advertising patches on game jerseys, beginning next season, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings having deals in place and others expected.
The progressive approach allowed for the league to get creative in its sponsorship deal with Tissot that brings a new leaguewide timing system and redesigned shot clock. Meanwhile, Nike waits in the wings to replace Adidas next season as the league’s official apparel provider with an eight-year, $1 billion deal.
He understands the entrepreneurial bent of NBA owners and encouraged their investment in esports, as some of the league’s most prominent and forward-thinking owners are diving headlong into the nascent but promising world.
Put all of that together, and you see how Silver’s thoughtful leadership is shaping the industry.