The NBA is about to go through one of its most important transitions in history.
In fact, it is going through several simultaneously. While some are dramatic and others symbolic, the final cumulative effect should be an evolution — not a revolution.
The most public and obvious is the retirement of Commissioner David Stern and the ascension of Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver to that powerful post. While their styles are very different, the succession has been planned out and should be very smooth.
This change will not signal a dramatic shift in the NBA’s business model, as Adam has been groomed for the position for many years and is the architect of many of the leagues current operating structures. Adam Silver is the ultimate “promote from within” candidate, having been with the league for 20 years and is essentially running many aspects of the league’s business. His promotion is what’s known as a “no-brainer”.
I have dealt with Adam on many occasions. We have been involved in the Collective Bargaining negotiations when I was a negotiator for the players. I am also a regular attendee at the NBA Technology Summit, one of Adam’s events during All Star weekend. He is as sharp as they come and really “gets it”.
The second dramatic change will be the election of a new Executive Director of the NBA’s Players Association. The removal of Billy Hunter, the longtime former Executive Director, does have the possibility of causing a dramatic shift in the NBA’s business. Billy had been a very confrontational figure and a divisive one within the Association. His leadership style led to dissension in the ranks, strife in the office, and little cooperative spirit between the league and its players.
The tension went beyond protecting the players from the other side.
The attitude of “if it’s good for them, it must be bad for us” set the Players Association backward in many ways. While much of this is not readily known because of the secret nature of the Association’s operations, there is an opportunity for a dramatic, revolutionary shift in how the Association runs its affairs.
For the most part, the league operated and the players got paid, but many believe that it happened in spite of Billy not because of him.
The 3rd dramatic change is more symbolic and will take place slowly over the next several years. This is the shift in how the league relates to its history. The NBA is by far the youngest of the major sports leagues in America today. With the MLB, NFL, and NHL all being founded 100 or more years ago, the NBA is rather young having been founded less than 70 years ago.
It also makes it the only league that has some of its founding players still living.
This resource is among the most precious in sports. Who wouldn’t want to have dinner with Babe Ruth, Bronco Nagursky, or another pioneer from those eras. Only in the NBA is this possible. If you look back at the Lakers dynasty (not of Magic and Kareem, but of Mikan and Mikklesen) or from my dad’s championship team in ‘55, you find that of those first 6 NBA champions about half are still living although most are 85+. There are even a couple of players still around from the first BAA champions, the 1947 Philadelphia Warriors, who are over 90!
The recent passing of Ossie Schectman (who scored the first basket in NBA history) at age 94 reminds us of the tremendous benefit to have access to all of that living history, something unique to the NBA.
At the 2011 All Star Game in LA, the fans experienced a special treat by being able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first basket scored in an NBA All Star Game. What made it truly special is that accompanying the video clip of the event was the appearance of the player who made the shot, my father, Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes.
The entire thing happened by accident. In honor of my dad’s 80th birthday, the league sent him a special highlight reel of his career. In that reel was the clip of the opening tip of the first All Star Game played in Boston. The old reel showed the ball going to Bob Cousy, who passed it to Schayes for the score! Legendary announcer Marty Glickman called the action.
When we watched it we all sat there like a bunch of dummies. We were staring at the screen going, “was that the first basket in All Star history?”
Before that instant, no one knew the significance of the play. Not the league, not us, not even the man himself! We had to watch it a few times to be sure. Even Dolph wasn’t sure at first!
I remember sitting next to my dad in LA at that moment. When the highlight was played and they introduced my dad in the stands, the arena erupted with applause. For the fans to be able to relive those black and white moments from so long ago and have the player there in the building was a special moment.
Each year at the Legends Brunch during All Star weekend, the Retired Players Association and the NBA take a moment to honor those players who were lost during the past year.
While we take that time to remember those players, it is also a time to appreciate the living history all around us. With our pioneers well over 80, we know that they are a precious thing indeed!
So make it happen, Adam.
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Danny Schayes is a retired 18-year-veteran of the NBA, a professional broadcaster and aspiring author now penning NBA columns for SheridanHoops. Follow him on Twitter.