The NBA’s Silver Lining Playmaster

These days, sports commissioners are in the news. A lot of the time, they’re making — Roger Goodell’s overturned suspension of Ray Rice, concussion protocols, Deflategate) — the news.

Published August 22, 2015 2:24 PM
5 min read


NBA-thThese days, sports commissioners are in the news. A lot of the time, they’re making — Roger Goodell’s overturned suspension of Ray Rice, concussion protocols, Deflategate) — the news.

NBABy Mitch Silver

These days, sports commissioners are in the news. A lot of the time, they’re making — Roger Goodell’s overturned suspension of Ray Rice, concussion protocols, Deflategate) — the news.

Adam Silver is no different. For the past year and a half as Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, he’s had to deal with the ouster of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for his racist comments; the almost-signing of DeAndre Jordan of those same Clippers by Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks before Jordan changed his mind and returned to Los Angeles; and the negotiating of a new $24 billion contract with ESPN and Turner Broadcasting.

Just this month, Silver traveled to Africa to pave the way for regular-season games to be played on that continent. While he was in Africa, I was able to interview him — via email — on everything from his childhood in Rye to his legal career to his rise to the NBA’s top job.


The Rye Record: Good morning, Mr. Commissioner. You attended Duke and the University of Chicago Law School, but let’s start off with your childhood and your education in Rye. And what you dreamed dream of doing when you grew up?

Adam Silver: Good morning to you and all your readers. I’m very happy to be doing an interview with my hometown paper. I grew up in Rye. We lived on Eve Lane until I was 4, and then we moved to Forest Avenue. I went to Milton Elementary School and then Rye Middle and High schools. Dreams? When I was younger I wanted to be a lawyer, like my dad.


Record: You were a Knicks fan, right? Favorite Knick?

Silver: Indeed, I grew up a Knicks fan, though now I root for every team. And my favorite player as a kid was Walt “Clyde” Frazier.


Record: One of your high school teachers, Maurio Sax, remembers you as a bright, eager student. What did you learn from him, both as a teacher and a person?

Silver: Mr. Sax was an amazing teacher and one of my first mentors. He taught me that learning could be exciting and fun and that what seemed obvious wasn’t always true.


Record: You said your dad was a lawyer. What can you tell us about your mom?

Silver : My mother, Melba Silver, was very involved in the community during the more than 50 years she lived in Rye. She was president of the Rye Free Reading Room for many years, as well as chair of the Rye Planning Commission.

I still have many close friends in Rye (like the Bostocks and the Mulvoys) and have fond memories of my childhood there. There are a few close friends from Milton School, like Steve Harrigan and Joe Cuzzupoli, whom I see regularly.


Record: Moving on, you were a litigator at Cravath, Swain & Moore and a law clerk in the Southern District of New York. How did that experience prepare you for being Commissioner? On the other hand, what is it about the work that you had to learn on the fly?


Silver: Being a lawyer was great preparation for being Commissioner, both directly and indirectly. My legal training provided a way of approaching problems and a way of thinking that I find very helpful in dealing with issues that confront the league. At Cravath I was doing largely anti-trust and media cases and I became fascinated with the media business. It gave me a great education on the industry and ultimately it’s what led me to the NBA.  

Thankfully, there hasn’t been much I’ve had to learn on the fly. After 22 years with the league, I was as prepared for this job as well as I could have possibly been.
Record: You were former Commissioner David Stern’s right-hand man for several years. What did you learn from him that you bring to the job now?


Silver: Thanks to David, who was a fantastic mentor, I learned to pay attention to details, to always be prepared. I learned to be deliberate when making decisions. I learned a lot about the sports industry. I could go on and on.
Record: What can the NBA learn from the travails of the other pro leagues? What does the league need to work on?


Silver : Of course we are aware of what’s happening in the other leagues and we have an open dialogue, but we have our own principles and priorities. We just unveiled a new “Calling,” or mission, for the NBA, which is to “Compete with intensity, Lead with integrity, and Inspire play.” These principles will help guide us as we move forward.

Record: Who is the smartest player or owner you work with? The one whose advice you seek out?


Silver: Now you’re trying to get me in trouble. Let me just say that I am very fortunate to work with an extraordinarily smart and talented group of owners and players.

Record: You greet every new draftee up on the stage. Some laugh, some cry…some mothers and fathers cry. What’s the most interesting/touching thing that’s happened during the draft?

Silver: Drafting Isaiah Austin last year (who could no longer play because of Marfan’s Syndrome) was very emotional and personally moving for me. This year we had a special moment when the Warriors took Kevon Looney with the last pick in the first round. Kevon had been projected to go earlier in the draft but fell due to injury concerns. His family was devastated. I spoke to his mother and told her everything would work out, but of course, I didn’t know that for sure. When he was selected in the first round, they were overjoyed. It was amazing to watch a family go through that roller coaster of emotions and end on a high note, and Kevon was thrilled beyond words.

Record: Now that you’ve done it for a while, is the job what you thought it would be?

Silver: I’ve learned that being Commissioner poses very different challenges than my five prior positions at the league. There is a huge difference between being the No. 2 guy and the No. 1 guy. Someone in basketball once said the longest foot in sports is the distance between the head coach and the assistant coach — that has certainly been true in my experience. At the end of the day, when you are making decisions that affect 450 players, 30 teams, and 30 owners, many of whom have differing points of view, it’s a constant balancing of priorities.
Record: Finally, did I understand correctly that you just got married? If so, congratulations.

Silver: Yes, thanks. I recently married Maggie Grise, who grew up in Stamford. We met through a mutual friend and were married in a hotel in New York City. And my Milton friends, Steve and Joe, were there!



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