National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver is supportive of the new high school league that pays young players at least $100,000.
Silver spoke to media this weekend to provide his annual update on the NBA, a day before it hosts the 2021 All-Star game in Atlanta. The NBA boss discussed media company Overtime’s new basketball league (Overtime Elite) for 16-18-year-olds.
“I think it’s generally good for the community to have optionality, especially when very solid people, which appears to be the case in [OTE], are backing it and behind it,” Silver said. “That’s one thing we will pay a lot of attention to because those players are potentially the future of our league.”
On Thursday, OTE announced it would be starting in September and pay up to 30 players at least $100,000 if they decide to join. The league is backed by Overtime investors including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Silver said he has “no opposition to paying young people” on a different path to becoming pro and skipping the NCAA.
An Overtime logo on a basketball court
“We created team Ignite in the G League as an opportunity for players who choose not to go to college and want to become professionals,” Silver said. “They can go directly into the G League and be well compensated.”
The NBA requires a player to be age 19 before entering the league. The Ignite program was created for individuals who decide to skip college but are not yet eligible. Ignite players are paid roughly $200,000 to $500,000 while they await eligibility. Silver said the NBA could change its rule around eligibility in the next collective bargaining agreement, but for now, the NBA will monitor OTE.
“It’s good for the game,” Silver said. “It’s more focus on the game, especially with all that’s happening right now in digital media; social media, new streaming services. There’s definitely interest in this content, so we’re paying attention to that.”
Back to regular business in the fall
On the call, Silver also mentioned the NBA anticipates a return to its regular schedule for the 2021-22 season with full arenas. The NBA reduced its schedule to 72 games this season due to Covid-19 impacts but wants to return to an 82-game season.
“The plan remains to try to resume our season as close to normal as possible next year,” Silver said, adding he’s “fairly optimistic” the league will start in October. “If vaccines continue on the pace they are and continue to be as effective as they have been against the virus and its variants, we’re hopeful that we’ll have relatively full arenas next season as well.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
Stacy Revere | Getty Images
Asked by CNBC to provide a financial update on the NBA, which nearly a year ago suspended games due to the pandemic, Silver was optimistic. He said the league is “fortunate to be working under these circumstances” though its missing 40% of its revenue with fans still limited.
“The long-term health of the league is very solid,” Silver said. “Between last year and this year, we’re looking at considerable losses. I generally don’t talk about that publicly because teams are largely privately held, and we’re not suggesting that’s anybody else’s issue but ours.
“But last season and this season has required a significant investment on the part of the team owners – they accept that,” Silver continued. “Players will end up taking a reduction in salary this season because they are partners with teams and the league on revenue.”
The NBA missed revenue projections by $1.5 billion due to Covid-19, according to the Associated Press. But by resuming its games last July and concluding its 2020-21 campaign, it fought off massive losses. Should it resume normal operations for 2021-22, Silver said all NBA players would not require vaccinations.
“I don’t see every player needing to get vaccinated as an impediment to fans returning to the arena,” Silver said. “No more do I think the fact that every fan won’t be vaccinated is an impediment to fans coming back in the arena.”
Men walk past a poster at an NBA exhibition in Beijing, China October 8, 2019.
Jason Lee | Reuters
NBA-China business update
Asked about the NBA’s affairs in China, Silver suggested its business as usual.
“Our business has continued there,” Silver said. “We have hundreds of millions of fans in China, and we see it as our business to serve those fans.”
NBA team executive Daryl Morey’s 2019 Twitter comments supporting Hong Kong protesters started the rift with China. Morey’s action led to China suspending NBA games on CCTV, and streaming platform Tencent also restricted NBA content. The media companies returned NBA games during the Finals.
During the 2020 All-Star game, Silver initially suggested the feud could result in a $400 million loss. The NBA valued its business in China at over $5 billion following a $1.5 billion media rights agreement with Tencent in 2019.
“Our values remain the same, and our business continues,” Silver said. “And it’s largely the business of exporting American basketball and the culture that comes with it to China.”