Since taking over as NBA commissioner from the late David Stern, Adam Silver has received mixed reviews. In addition to controversial responses to protests, Silver has shown a willingness to enter trade negotiations with a much heavier hand than his predecessor. But NBA commissioner is a tough job and he can’t do everything to please everyone.
Adam Silver did score points with NBA fans by bringing attention to an often-overlooked struggle many players face. Last year, Silver spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where Bill Simmons asked him why many players in the NBA today “seem unhappy.”
Silver clearly wasn’t at the math-focused conference to discuss player health and happiness. It would probably have been accepted if he simply brushed off the question. But he took a moment and replied with one of the most honest answers of his tenure as commissioner so far.
Commissioner Adam Silver’s comments on player anxiety
“We are living in a time of anxiety,” Silver responded, according to The Nation. “I think it’s a direct result of social media. A lot of players are unhappy.” Silver is correct; social media is a bigger influence on players than ever, but his words weren’t especially popular with commentators.
Charles Barkley took issue with Silver, echoing the talking point that players with a lot of money can’t be unhappy. In addition to some comments on Silver and unnecessary shots at Kyrie Irving, Barkley said “Listen … These guys are making $20, $30, $40 million a year. They work 6, 7 months a year. We stay at the best hotels in the world. They ain’t got no problems. That’s total bogus.”
Barkley isn’t the only pundit to respond negatively to Silver’s words. But the former NBA player’s position on anxiety is unpopular.
NBA players go public with anxiety struggles
Over the past few years, more NBA players are comfortable sharing their struggles with anxiety. DeMar DeRozan spoke with the Toronto Star after the All-Star break in 2018 when he made headlines with a tweet about depression.
Kevin Love‘s discussion of anxiety and panic attacks in The Players’ Tribune went a long way toward normalizing mental health in the NBA. In the NFL, Brandon Brooks managed his anxiety to a level that he could win a Super Bowl, despite needing to leave a game due to a panic attack.
As more pro sports leagues focus on player safety, it’s likely they’ll expand that to cover mental health. Team psychologists ensure the players perform their best on the courts, but they’re not always focused on helping the athletes thrive mentally. It would definitely be a worthy investment for the NBA.
Silver’s path to a legacy
Adam Silver has experienced ups and downs during his tenure as commissioner, but his response to Simmons’s question was spot on. Players are under closer scrutiny than ever. Millions of anonymous Twitter accounts are ready to insult them for any mistake or show of weakness.
Social media is a massive part of life today, and NBA players experience the pros and cons of it, too. Whether it’s the increased pressure of social media or just the expectations of being a pro athlete, every player handles it in their own way.
Players like Love, DeRozan, and Brooks have normalized seeking mental health help. While it may not be enough to please Barkley, fans understand that players are humans just like everyone else. Silver’s comments went a long way toward ensuring fans and critics know the league understands the changing times.
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