NEW YORK — If you decide to assemble your NBA hate-tweets into a real-life email to Commissioner Adam Silver, do not be surprised if he writes you back.
Under Silver, the NBA banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for making racist comments and moved the All-Star game from North Carolina after the state passed a law eliminating anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The league, behind star players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry, has built a reputation for its social-justice stances, in pointed opposition to the NFL.
One or all of these things, and more, have made some people mad.
Speaking to a gathering of the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, Silver said that he tries to engage directly with fans angry about his decisions. “Whether people said it online or wrote me letters directly saying ‘I will never be a fan of your game again because you have made that decision,’ my reaction was to try and engage with them,” Silver said.
“People are often surprised to hear back from me. I think the mistake would be in this day and age to say, ‘I know I am right.’”
In a 45-minute interview with Stephanie Ruhle, an anchor on MSNBC, Silver discussed a number of topics bound to inspire a few emails, including gambling, social media use by players, the role of analytics in decision-making and his hope that the NBA will become the first major men’s professional sports league to have a female head coach.
“We are very focused on a woman being a head coach in our league,” Silver said, naming Becky Hammon, currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Sue Bird and Kristi Toliver as potential candidates. “I am very confident it is going to happen at some point.”
As for the current crop of coaches, Silver offered a mild rebuke of extreme analytics-driven team building strategies, though he didn’t explicitly address what is known as tanking — teams losing on purpose. The race to the bottom to acquire top draft picks was “a result of some very skilled analytics people sort of finding ways to game the system,” Silver said, before noting that there was “nothing wrong with that. That’s what their jobs are.”
He added that “there still is no substitute for the best team presidents, general managers, understanding the dynamics of those relationships.”
“Where some of the teams have taken a bad turn is it’s too much based on a spreadsheet,” he said.
Fan interest in draft strategy, free agency and the trade deadline has been one outcome of the league becoming a 24/7 soap opera, fueled by social media and reflected in growing attendance and television ratings under Silver. Tweets and Instagram posts from players, not to mention Snapchat messages gone awry, are an integral part of the NBA experience.
Silver expressed an enthusiasm for the sharing of highlights and behind-the-scenes video on social media, and detailed a relatively hands-off approach to monitoring players’ interactions on such platforms.
“It is not all codified, but in essence the understanding is don’t put much more on social media than you would put in an interview,” he said, and added, “I’m not running around going: ‘You’re fined. You’re fined. I can’t believe you used that one word.’”