The setting was as exotic as it gets for NBA press conferences: Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf. One of the questions for NBA commissioner Adam Silver was about Victor Webaniyama, the lanky French teenager who already looks like the most sought-after No. 1 draft sensation since LeBron James two decades ago.
So it seemed only natural that the topics would focus on change and the future when Silver met with international journalists on Thursday. He spoke before the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks played the first of two NBA preseason games here, the final set for Saturday.
“I’ve been in the NBA now for 30 years,” Silver said. “I think in the next five years, we’re going to see a lot more growth than we’ve seen in the last 30 years. There are so many changes happening in the presentation of sports right now.”
Silver standing in Abu Dhabi conducting a press conference usually held at the NBA Finals and All-Star Games is a sign of the league’s growth and progress already. Although these are the first games held in the Bay Area, the NBA’s product has been available via telecasts for about 35 years, he said.
Players and coaches have visited Basketball Without Borders clinics and programs for three decades, and the Middle East and North Africa has produced approximately 25 NBA players over the years.
“For me, it’s the culmination of many decades of work here,” Silver said.
So what’s next in terms of the game’s presentation, he was asked.
“One of the things we’re working on right now is the distribution of the games,” the commissioner said. “That is the ease of accessibility of the games. Part of why we launched this new [NBA] The app this year is that it is widely available. … We recognize that it has to be convenient for fans to get our games. Not looking in many different places, different apps, different networks to try to find us.”
Ahead of the 2022-23 season, the league released the newly redesigned NBA app to be an all-in-one destination for fans of each team.
To celebrate the new app, the league released its campaign, “This is HAPPENING,” to get fans excited about everything the NBA app has to offer. pic.twitter.com/4ImwtmPcz7
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) October 6, 2022
Streaming platforms and video technology will increasingly allow fans to customize their viewing. “Customization, personalization,” Silver called it.
“To the extent that you want to follow a specific player, you want more data as you watch the game, you want to chat with your friends or part of a larger conversation with experts,” he said. “All these things are starting to happen now in sports, but I feel like we’re just scratching the surface.”
Other issues raised by journalists:
• Silver cited the “density” of the 82-game schedule as a challenge in having teams play twice, rather than just once, when sent to overseas destinations for regular-season games. This season, Miami and San Antonio will play in Mexico City on December 17th. Chicago and Detroit will travel to Paris for a game on January 19th.
“Even just playing a game in Europe, adjusting the time, adjusting the travel, adjusting a little bit of jet lag when we get back, that already puts a ripple on the schedule,” he said. “I know our teams, since they’re already making the trip, they’re going to play twice right away.”
• Two of the league’s brightest stars, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic — who have won the past four Kia Most Valuable Player awards — drew high praise.
“Where do I start? I’ll start with John the man,” Silver said. “He’s just an incredible young man. I can tell, watching him here in Abu Dhabi, he just loves interacting with the people here. He stays extra to he is with the young people in the clinics. He is very welcoming. He is, I feel very much, a global citizen. He represents Greece incredibly well. Apparently his parents are from Africa and now [he is] living in the United States.
“He brings real joy to the game. You can see it in his style of play and his relationship with his teammates. And of course Giannis as a player is a multiple MVP. Someone who plays with injuries. Someone who always plays with incredible passion. He took the game to the highest level but put in the extra time in the gym to continue to develop his game. It’s a commissioner’s dream.”
Silver recycled superlatives when asked about Jokic.
“All the wonderful things I said about Giannis, also about Nikolas,” he said. “Also an incredible young man. Big man but a different style in many ways to Giannis. Truly a wizard with the ball. He represents Serbia incredibly well. I’m not going to put any odds on his chances of winning MVP again, but another player who’s just a joy to watch.”
• The buzz about Wembanyama traveled 8,211 miles from Henderson, Nev., to Abu Dhabi, sparking a question about the supposedly alluring prize of the 2023 NBA draft. Silver said he watched Tuesday’s showdown on the NBA’s new app between the tall, impossibly skilled youngster’s Metropolitans 92 team and Scoot Henderson’s G League Ignite team.
“I think I could beat a player who hasn’t even made it to the NBA yet by calling him ‘the next great thing,'” Silver said. “But it certainly has all the makings of a real game changer. The physical media. He certainly seems to have the mind set to be a big player. He got on that big stage against Ignite.
The commissioner added: “I know a lot of our NBA teams are running around with the idea that maybe through our lottery they could get him. … Unlike players of an earlier generation, the games were accessible to him — it wasn’t just watching old videotapes produced by Ahmad Rashad from the old days. He could mold his game around certain players.
“So I’m really excited to watch him develop this year.”
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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