When David Stern leaves his post as NBA commissioner on February 1, 2014, Adam Silver is going to have a big pair of wingtips to fill, and some well-worn ones, too. Mr. Stern has been with the NBA since 1978. Few NBA players were even born when the association had another commissioner. Although Mr. Silver inherits an institution operating in a different world than his predecessor and mentor, he has a good chance of being more than a caretaker commissioner.
First, he has been training for this job for more than 20 years. Despite Mr. Stern’s larger-than-life persona in sports and entertainment, and his sometimes awkward attempts to make it look like he’s gradually been handing over the reins, Mr. Silver has played a big role in getting the league into its current position. He negotiated the last two TV contracts and the last three collective bargaining agreements. He ran NBA Entertainment for a long time, launching NBA-TV 24/7 and NBA.com and its 50 associated websites. He also oversaw the creation of NBC China.
Mr. Silver has been ahead of the curve on the game-changing issues of the 21st century. Globalization? That’s routine business for the NBA. Managing a marketplace rapidly evolving through cable, Internet and mobile devices? He has spent a decade addressing these issues for the league. Mr. Silver and the NBA will face some big issues, but they are the kind of issues you face when you’re on top, and the kind of issues capable of solutions: the NBA’s place in the Olympics and other international competitions; selling ad space on uniforms; what to do with the weakest of the league’s 30 franchises.
Most importantly, Mr. Silver is not Mr. Stern. To get the NBA to its exalted position, Mr. Stern has had to ruffle feathers, make enemies and generally convince everyone it was his ballgame. Mr. Silver has the benefit of all those accomplishments and the opportunity to reset the clock. Mr. Silver also has a good sense of humor, which is always helpful. At least Kimba Wood says he does, or did, when he clerked for her out of law school.