The NBA has gone through a series of transition years. Though this might not seem like a revelation to you, it’s still stunning to look back on how much the league has changed since a couple of years ago. The schedule’s ten games shorter, the play-in tournament has been instituted, finalists like the Raptors and Warriors now both own draft picks in the single digits. As such, Adam Silver sits in a precarious position as NBA commissioner. Though change can be a catalyst for some of the league’s most legendary innovations, the bevy of adaptations also comes with plenty of associated risks–not necessarily the best thing to be taking on in the face of a waning global pandemic.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that in Silver’s ceremonial pre-Finals press conference, the commissioner’s words held a bit more weight to them than usual. Unprompted, the first subject of his remarks was the uptick in player injuries–not a great marketing play, but certainly a topic of concern associated with the league’s rapid changes. “Precisely why we have the injuries we do is unclear to us, it’s something that we’ll study in the offseason. The trend line unfortunately has been going up the past several years, and that’s despite the tremendous additional resources our teams have put into injury prevention…it’s horrific and it’s something that of course takes away from the competition.
For what it’s worth, despite Silver’s apparent concern with the upticks of injuries, it’s interesting to note the conspicuous concepts that he deemed unrelated to player health. For example, he brushed off the notion that resting players does any good, citing the fact that player injuries were up 100% this year despite copious resting. The commish even noted that players are increasingly getting sidelined through injuries acquired through practice and offcourt activities. Couple that with Silver’s argument that the lower game totals didn’t prevent further injuries, and one could argue that the league is almost assuredly going back to an 82 game schedule with presumably less incentives to rest players.
On the business side of things, Adam Silver again presented a cautiously optimistic view on the league’s outlook. He mentioned that the league certainly took a financial hit during the course of the pandemic, and noted that ending the season in July wasn’t optimal for television ratings (an interesting way to signal to listeners that the Nielsen numbers might be lower than expected). Still, the NBA leadership apparently didn’t expect to seat fans in their audience as quickly as they did, meaning revenue is only down by a third as opposed to the 40% or so that they predicted.
Still, a full recovery is something that Silver painted as a long-term project. Players will still be facing salary cuts years down the line (something both sides agreed would hemorrhage the bleeding during the past two seasons), and a ‘get rich quick’ scenario doesn’t seem to be looming. Even expansion, the internet’s shiny new toy, doesn’t appear to Silver to be a great option to get teams back in the green. This may not seem readily apparent, but take it from someone with degrees from Duke and the University of Chicago. While expansion allows teams to cash in earlier, the presence of two more teams means that each franchise gets less and less of the ad revenue pie.
Ultimately, it seems like the NBA is rightfully still in survival mode. With the Delta Variant looming, I think Silver and company just want to make sure the Finals can be completed as-is. The language the commissioner used when describing next season is especially interesting–’closer to normal’, or ‘a lot like normal’, but not completely back to normal. Things seem to very much be up in the air when it comes to next season–who knows if the Raptors can return to Toronto, or if arenas can operate at full capacity? For now, Adam Silver can rest knowing he’s likely steered the NBA through the worst the pandemic has to offer. With the Bucks and Suns about to move into the next phase of their clash, maybe he’ll even get a minute or two to enjoy the product on the court.
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