- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says that he would have ‘preferred’ that the league and the players’ association come to an agreement on a vaccine mandate.
- At the same time, he made an effort to extricate the league from involvement in the Brooklyn Nets’ impasse with anti-vaxxer Kyrie Irving.
- As of now, Irving is the only NBA player unable to play this season due to a vaccine mandate.
While the National Hockey League was bringing the hammer down on Evander Kane and his fake COVID-19 vaccination card scheme, their counterparts in the pro hoop world were doing just the opposite. During his annual preseason media conference, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did everything possible to recuse the league from any responsibility–or, for that matter, any authority–in the shenanigans involving the Brooklyn Nets’ anti vaxxer/head case Kyrie Irving and his refusal to do what he has to do to play the game. At the same time, he managed to emphasize that he’s personally in favor of a vaccinate mandate while subtly shifting blame for *not* having one on the National Basketball Players’ Association. It was one of the more impressive examples of a pro sports commissioner disseminating inscrutable ‘leagal-eze’ outside of Roger Goodell and the NFL that we’ve seen in some time. In fact, it might have even topped anything Goodell has ever done with Silver’s emphasis on semantics over the general good of the game.
Since most of the media that covered the ‘annual media conference’ were NBA broadcast partners like ESPN–as well as the league’s own website–Silver’s comments went without any real analysis, let alone critique. He started with a fairly innocuous subject–the (hopeful) return to normalcy in the league’s 75th anniversary year after a couple of seasons disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic:
“I think we won’t know until we can look back when this pandemic is truly over how we can grade ourselves relative to how other businesses have done. I’ll just say that I’m really thrilled that we’re back to something that looks closer to normal this year.”
To his credit, the NBA did a decent job in unprecedented circumstances by cobbling together any type of season over the past two years. It also caused significant damage to the league’s bottom line:
Getting back to full arenas should boost overall league revenue above $10 billion this season, Silver projected. But the hits the NBA took in attendance, lost games and TV audience still gouged an estimated 35% from its bottom line, he said.
Losing player availability to the virus or quarantines no longer is a major concern. The Orlando “bubble” in which the 2019-20 season was completed and the protocols imposed for last season largely worked for a demographic – young, supremely conditioned athletes – already at low risk.
Now, approximately 96% of the league’s 450 or so players have been vaccinated. Public attention has shifted to exceptions within that 4%, most notably Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving. Irving’s situation is unique because of New York’s vaccine mandate, requiring him to receive the injection in order to play within the city limits at Barclays Center, the Nets’ arena.
This is when Silver went into his high powered lawyer mode. He began by making a case for vaccine mandates–not for obvious reasons of health and safety but to prevent it from being an ‘adversarial issue’. After claiming the high ground of harmonious labor relations, Silver then placed the blame on the players’ association in an amazingly non-confrontational manner:
“I won’t try to speak for [the NBPA], other than the view that some players had, I think — including maybe some players who are vaccinated — that it should be an individual choice among the players.”
“I would have preferred that ultimately that the players’ association agreed to mandatory vaccinations. The officials union agreed to mandatory vaccinations, despite opposition from some of their members. But ultimately, I think we could have avoided a lot of the adversarial nature of these issues for our players. It’s not so much with the league. I think that gets confused in some cases.”
Silver then artfully recused himself and the league from any responsibility for Irving and the other few anti-vaxxers in the league. To paraphrase an oft repeated adage from the Canadian TV series Letterkenny–Silver dismissed it by saying: ‘not my pigs, not my farm’:
“This is between Irving and New York City right now. This is not a league issue … but I think it would have been best for everyone if every player were vaccinated.”
The Commish was then asked about the ‘fairness’ of the situation with Irving unable to play while other conspiracy addled anti-vaxers like the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal are able to go about their business:
“I’m not sure if fair is the right way to approach it because there’s nothing fair about this virus. It’s indiscriminate in terms of who it impacts, and I think it’s perfectly appropriate that New York and other cities have passed laws that require people who both work and visit arenas to be vaccinated. That seems to be a responsible public health decision made by those locales, and those are the circumstances in which the Nets find themselves operating.”
“I accept that. I think that we understand as a league we have to play the cards that are dealt, just in the same way there are variations from market to market. I know there are players in some markets who would prefer that their local governments pass ordinances requiring that all the fans be vaccinated who are in the buildings with them.”
“We’ll see how it plays out. I mean, frankly, I hope that Kyrie sort of — despite how strongly he feels about the vaccination — ultimately decides to get vaccinated, because I’d love to see him play basketball this season, and I’d love to see the Brooklyn Nets have their full complement of players on the floor.”
This is a pretty brilliant position. Silver is on record that he is in favor of vaccine mandates and has no issue with cities implementing them. At the same time, he keeps himself and the league ‘above the fray’. In the last paragraph, he gently suggests that Kyrie do the right thing and get vaccinated–but justifies it from a fan’s perspective of wanting to see him play hoops.
Silver’s rambling discourse on players becoming advocates for political/social issues wasn’t as tight but he made his point. It’s tough to stand up for players right to speak their beliefs while simultaneously emphasizing that the right to have an opinion is different from having the right to play in the league. He also took a subtle swipe at the anti-vaxxers by addressing the need to use their platform ‘responsibly’ and to ‘educate themselves’. He had a lot to cover and he did it though it was nowhere near as artful as his previous quotes:
“… I think that gets lost sometimes, that having an opinion about whether to get vaccinated is different than your right to play NBA basketball. We’re seeing that, for example, in the New York market right now, when there’s a conflict with a player’s point of view and the local law, and the local law is going to trump that player’s point of view.”
“I’ve always tried to ensure that players feel comfortable using this platform that the league affords them. I don’t mean literally the league. Just by being a famous NBA player, that they use it responsibly, that they educate themselves on points of view, but they also are respected in return.”
“I hope that to the extent that players continue to express points of view on a variety of topics that those points of view are respected. Again, that doesn’t mean that either the league will necessarily agree with them or fans will, but that fans will respect them for doing that, as long as it doesn’t cross certain lines of vulgarity or hate speech … there’s obviously some other categories where people shouldn’t go as representatives of this league.”
I’m sure that being NBA Commissioner has plenty of pressure that accompanies it but overall it’s a pretty sweet gig. I can understand why Silver would want to do it instead of actually being a lawyer but I’d love to watch him work in the courtroom. On one hand, you can make a case that Silver’s primary concern should be the overall good of the game. A case can also be made that having the league’s season overshadowed by Irving’s antics and, to a lesser extent, head cases like Ben Simmons run counter to the NBA’s best interests. On the other hand, I can see why Silver would want to not deal with any of this nonsense–particularly if it would put the NBA in a tenuous position legally.