Skip to main content

In the world of professional sports, commissioners are easy targets for disgruntled fans. As the public face of their respective leagues, people like Adam Silver and Roger Goodell absorb plenty of slings and arrows; if you’re unhappy with the state of the sport, it’s pretty easy to boo the commissioner.

Adam Silver, however, seems to have earned himself some praise. While 2020 wasn’t an ideal year for anyone, the commissioner made some tough decisions, completed the NBA playoffs, and managed to save the league from an eye-popping $1.5 billion in lost revenue.

The NBA was at the forefront of the United States’ COVID-19 experience

These days, the coronavirus pandemic has simply become an unfortunate reality of life. In March 2020, however, things were a bit different.

While COVID-19 had spread across Europe and enveloped places like Italy and Spain, the virus still seemed relatively far away from America. On March 11, though, everything changed thanks to the NBA.

When it came time for the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder to take the floor and begin their game, the players were nowhere to be found; after a seeming eternity, news broke that the game had been canceled. Jazz big man Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19.

That reality kicked off a chain reaction, and, by the end of the night, the league had suspended play indefinitely. In that moment, the NBA made Americans incredibly conscious of reality: COVID-19 was real, and it had arrived.

Adam Silver brought the NBA into a bubble and saved the season

With the NBA season suspended, everything seemed uncertain; as each subsequent domino fell and event after event was canceled, it wasn’t clear when we’d see professional basketball again. Adam Silver and the league, however, managed to figure things out.

After a few months on the sidelines, NBA action resumed at the end of July. The games didn’t take place in crowded arenas around the country, though. 22 teams headed down to Orlando, entered the league’s bubble on Walt Disney World property, and played out the remainder of the season in isolation.

Barring some bumps along the way—players initially complained about their food and accommodations, for example, and Danuel House was kicked out of the bubble for violating safety protocols—the league’s experiment worked. While Major League Baseball and the NFL have dealt with positive tests throughout their campaigns, the NBA didn’t encounter any such difficulties. The season concluded, albeit in unusual circumstances, in October with the LA Lakers claiming the championship.

Adam Silver saved the NBA $1.5 billion in lost revenue

At the risk of heaping too much praise on Adam Silver and ignoring all the other people who made the NBA bubble work, the commissioner’s decision making helped save the NBA season.

Suspending play immediately on March 11 may have seemed like an overreaction, but doing otherwise would have only prolonged the inevitable. Similarly, moving into the bubble was a big ask that could have blown up in the league’s face. In retrospect, though, those moves helped the NBA finish the 2020 campaign without a hitch.

That on-court success also paid financial dividends. “According to sources familiar with the league’s finances, the Disney restart allowed the NBA to stem the loss of about $1.5 billion in expected revenue, the bulk of the money tied to national and local television revenue followed by league sponsorships,” John Lombardo explained in Sports Business Journal.

While things aren’t completely rosy from a financial perspective—playing games without fans and underwhelming TV ratings will obviously hurt the bottom line—things could have gone much worse. 2020 hasn’t been ideal for anyone but, from an NBA perspective, Adam Silver saved the day.