NEW ORLEANS — With a new labor deal already in place, Adam Silver’s heaviest lifting Saturday came as he defused a pair of controversies—one serious and one silly—that have dominated the conversation at All-Star Weekend.
Speaking at his annual All-Star address, the NBA commissioner extended an olive branch to ex-Knicks forward Charles Oakley, who was arrested earlier this month following an incident with Madison Square Garden security. Silver set up a meeting between Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan earlier this week in hopes of brokering peace following intense criticism of Oakley’s treatment and a series of damaging public statements by Dolan in the aftermath of the arrest. While Silver issued a statement noting that both men “were apologetic” after the meeting, which also included Hornets owner Michael Jordan, Oakley continued to criticize Dolan in interviews this week.
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Silver acknowledged that Oakley was “very emotional” during the meeting and stated that he was “hopeful that Charles will sort of come back into the family.” Officially, Dolan has lifted the “ban” of Oakley from MSG, but Silver said that he didn’t leave the meeting feeling that the issue had been completely resolved. Indeed, Oakley suggested in an SI Now interview this week that he felt the meeting was set up as a public relations move in advance of All-Star Weekend and compared Dolan to Donald Sterling, the disgraced former Clippers owner.
“While I'm disheartened that, at least based on media accounts, that it does not appear to be moving forward in a constructive way, right now I don't regret that I had that meeting,” Silver said. “And if there is a constructive role I can play going forward, I'm available to do that. Again, I didn't compel them to meet with me. I did it because I thought it would be helpful. And frankly, in retrospect, I still think it was helpful.”
For now, the ball appears to be in Oakley’s court. Silver noted that the rugged power forward and Knicks fan favorite wasn’t willing to accept Dolan’s invitation to return to MSG during the meeting. In the days since, Silver has encouraged Oakley to “continue to think about” a Garden return.
“Whether that's a month from now, six months from now, or a year from now, the fan in me and someone who's known Charles for a long time, I hope at some point he does decide to return to Madison Square Garden,” Silver said. “Ultimately that's his decision.”
Unfortunately, Silver did not offer any thoughts on additional steps the NBA might take to ensure that this ugly bit of history—one involving a former player at an official facility—doesn’t repeat itself.
Kyrie Irving’s Laws Of Physics
On a lighter note, Silver also addressed comments made by Kyrie Irving suggesting that the Earth was “flat” and not round. The Cavaliers’ All-Star point guard floated the conspiracy theory on a podcast recently, adding cryptically, “They lie to us.”
LeBron James told reporters earlier Saturday that Irving is his “little brother” and that “if he decides to say the Earth is flat, then so be it. He’s an interesting guy. He believes himself.”
Silver suggested that Irving was merely “trying to be provocative” by making “a larger comment on the sort of so-called fake news debate that’s going on in our society.” The commissioner then took a light-hearted jab at the Finals Game 7 hero.
“Kyrie and I went to the same college,” said Silver, a Duke graduate. “He may have taken some different courses than I did.”
Lest he be accused of co-signing Irving’s alternative facts, Silver affirmed his own belief in the traditional understanding of the Earth’s shape.
“[Irving’s comments] led to an interesting discussion,” Silver said. “But personally, I believe the world is round.”
In his opening statement, Silver noted that 25% of current NBA players now hail from outside the USA and that roughly half of last year’s draft picks came from outside the country. When asked for his thoughts on President Trump’s attempted travel ban, which could theoretically impact NBA players, Silver acknowledged his concern.
“We do a tremendous amount of business on a global basis, and if you think about what the NBA stands for, it's, in essence, the very best all coming together, the very best in the world all coming together to perform at the highest level,” he said. “So government restrictions on travel, I am concerned about. It goes against the fundamental values and the fundamental ingredients of what make for a great NBA.”
While the initial ban was struck down in court, Silver suggested that he would do what he could to support from countries affected by any subsequent bans. For example, Lakers forward Luol Deng and Bucks forward Thon Maker both hail from the Sudan.
“My personal view is from a league standpoint we have to look out for our league members,” he said. “We need to look at specific cases and see how that potentially could impact members of the NBA family and then play whatever role we can in providing information to the government and monitoring the situation.”
The NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which kicks in next summer, leaves unchanged the league’s draft eligibility policy. As it stands, players will not be able to jump directly from high school to the professional level. Silver has stated his preference for a system that would require players to spend at least two years in college while National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts desires a freer approach that would for “preps to pros” jumps.
“She and I both agree that it's the kind of issue that needs to be studied, in essence, outside of the bright lights of collective bargaining,” Silver said, adding that he believed the topic would be broached before the end of the next labor deal in seven years.
Nevertheless, the path forward on possibly change the age limit – either from 19 to 20 (the NBA’s preference) or 19 to 18 (the NBPA’s preference)—is unclear. Silver noted that, on average, only eight players per year over the last five years have make the jump to the NBA, but he said the topic remains a priority.
“I think [deadlock on the issue during CBA talks] requires that we take a new look and a new approach to the issue,” he said.
Future All-Star Locations
New Orleans played host to All-Star Weekend for the third time since 2008 this year after Silver moved the game out of Charlotte, N.C., following the HB2 “bathroom bill” controversy. The last-minute location switch, which wasn’t finalized until last August, seemingly set up a new precedent for host cities.
Silver, however, cautioned against the idea that the NBA would be using political litmus tests when evaluation host cities in states that might adopt similar legislation to North Carolina.
“We'd have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” he said. “I'm not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It's something we're, of course, going to monitor very closely.”
However, he added that the NBA’s decision to bail on Charlotte was made with an eye towards the “league-wide values of equality and inclusion” and that other host cities are “on notice” that these values are an “important factor” in selecting host cities for All-Star Weekend.
Los Angeles is set to host the 2018 All-Star Weekend. Charlotte and Cleveland are both reportedly under consideration for future All-Star Weekends.