Adam Silver (born April 25, 1962) is an American businessman, lawyer and sports executive who is the fifth and current commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He joined the NBA in 1992 and has held various positions with the league, becoming chief operating officer and deputy commissioner under his predecessor and mentor David Stern in 2006. When Stern retired in 2014, Silver was named the new commissioner.
While commissioner, the league continued to grow economically and worldwide, especially in China. Controversies during his tenure have included racist remarks by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014, whom Silver banned for life from the game, and the reaction by the People’s Republic of China to comments made by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of the 2019 Hong Kong protests.
After graduating from high school, Silver attended Duke University, graduating in 1984 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. After college he worked as a legislative aide for U.S. Congressman Les AuCoin from 1984 to 1985. He then studied law at the University of Chicago Law School and graduated in 1988 with a J.D. degree.
After law school, Silver clerked for one year for Judge Kimba Wood of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and then joined the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore as an associate.
Prior to becoming commissioner, Silver was the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer for eight years. In that role, he was involved in the negotiation of the league’s last three collective bargaining agreements with the National Basketball Players Association, the development of the WNBA and NBA Development League, the partnership with Turner Broadcasting to manage the NBA’s digital assets, and the creation of NBA China.
Previously, Silver spent eight years as President and COO of NBA Entertainment. Since joining the NBA in 1992, Silver has also held the positions of Senior VP & COO, NBA Entertainment, NBA Chief of Staff, and Special Assistant to the Commissioner.
During his time with NBA Entertainment, Silver was an executive producer of the IMAX movie Michael Jordan to the Max, as well as the documentary Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray? He also worked on the production side of Like Mike and Year of the Yao.
On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a video of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling holding a conversation with his girlfriend that included racist remarks. Silver responded on April 29, 2014, announcing that Sterling had been banned from the NBA for life. In addition, Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under the NBA constitution. Silver stripped Sterling from virtually all of his authority over the Clippers, and urged owners to vote to expel Sterling from ownership of the Clippers. Sterling was disallowed from entering any Clippers facility as well as attending any NBA games. It was one of the most severe punishments ever imposed on a professional sports owner.
On November 13, 2014, Silver published an op-ed piece in The New York Times, where he announced that he is in favor of legalized and regulated sports betting, mentioning that it should be “brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”
On October 4, 2019, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey issued a tweet that supported the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Morey later deleted the tweet. On October 6 Morey and the NBA each issued a separate statement addressing the original tweet; Morey said that he never intended his tweet to cause any offense while the NBA said the tweet was “regrettable.” The statements drew attention and subsequent bipartisan criticism from several US politicians. On October 7, Silver defended league’s response to the tweet, supporting Morey’s right to freedom of expression while also accepting the right of reply from the government of and businesses from China.
In October 2019, Silver was faced with an impending issue in terms of the partnership between China and the NBA. After Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, China has responded negatively with decisions to possibly cut ties from the NBA. However, Adam Silver responded supporting Daryl Morey stating that he has an expression to exercise his freedom of speech. Furthermore, Silver publicly said:
“It is inevitable that people around the world including from America and China will have different viewpoints over different issues. . . . It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.”
Chinese smartphone manufacturer, Vivo, responded to Silver’s statements, stating:
“Vivo has always insisted on the principle that the national interest is above all else and firmly opposes any remark and behavior that constitutes a challenge to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity. . . . Starting today, Vivo will suspend all cooperation with the NBA.”
On the other hand, Silver and the NBA have faced significant criticism for bias in favor of China’s Communist regime from across the American political spectrum for their response to Morey’s comments and signs reading “Google Uighurs” held up by fans at a preseason Washington Wizards game soon thereafter. While the Washington Post published an opinion piece declaring “Americans must search their conscience and google Uyghurs,” left wing Slate asked why “The league is running a training center in the middle of one of the worlds worst humanitarian atrocities” as authors at Esquire published pieces using the behavior of “Adam Silver and his chickenshit high command” to critique American political figures and businesses from Nixon to Walmart for participating in “a Rich American Tradition of Appeasing China’s Totalitarian Regime.” Meanwhile, authors in the right-wing National Review opined that “Apparently the NBA is fine with protesting American police brutality, but not Hong Kong police brutality.”
In 2016, Sports Business Journal ranked Silver No. 1 on its list of the 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business. In 2015, Silver was named Executive of the Year by Sports Business Journal. That year he was also named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People and one of Fortune‘s 50 Greatest Leaders.
Silver is on Duke University’s Board of Trustees and received the 2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Chicago Law School. He is also on the board of the Lustgarten Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.