A prince must learn all he can from the king before taking the throne, including from his mistakes.
That is the task facing Adam Silver right now as he prepares to take the NBA reins from David Stern.
Silver, who has been Stern’s lieutenant since 2006, has already been been selected to succeed his boss on February 1, 2014 by the NBA Board Of Governors. That gives him slightly more than a year to observe all he can before assuming the role of commissioner. Silver is thought to have a wide agenda for the league that includes the possibilities of adding sponsor logos to team jerseys and an expansion to Europe. It is in the second area that Silver can learn from Stern’s follies.
No perfect lesson for that is as evident as the situation involving the Sacramento Kings.
The city of Sacramento and the current owners of the Kings, the Maloof brothers, have been at odds for the last two years over the team’s fate. At center stage are the current financial situation of the Maloofs and the state of the aging Kings home , the Sleep Train Arena. The Maloofs have been trying to get the team out of Sacramento and into Anaheim where a financial bailout awaited them. The only thing that stood in their way was something they didn’t expect, the citizens of Sacramento fighting back. Led by former NBA player/current mayor Kevin Johnson and radio personality Carmichael Dave, Kings fans in the city led a grassroots campaign with small businesses called ‘Here We Stay’ to pressure the Maloofs into staying in Sacramento. Mayor Johnson did his part by convincing the league that the money was there for Sacramento to support a team. The efforts looked to be successful when a deal was reached for a a new arena to be built in Sacramento.
That is until the Maloofs backed away from the deal at the last minute, leaving the situation in limbo.
Then on Wednesday reports surfaced about the the Maloofs being close to selling the Kings to a Seattle-based group with plans to move the team to that city next season for an estimated sum of over $500 million. Over the next three days the situation has taken many turns with reports of the Maloofs wanting to keep a management role of the Kings and Mayor Johnson vowing to do what he can to keep the team in Sacramento with buyers emerging to help him do just that.
This entire circus should have Silver’s undivided attention right now, especially considering his boss’s reputation.
One of the biggest criticisms that the NBA has faced in recent years has revolved around team relocation and financial stability of owners. Stern has been largely viewed as wanting owners who look to have the biggest wallets without insight as to how well off those wallets really are. He has also shown a large preference for arena deals to be made between cities and owners with those cities’ taxpayers footing the bill. That combination has led to various teams moving to other cities, the most notorious case being when the Oklahoma City Thunder moved from Seattle. Now an even more notorious situation could be looming.
If Silver really wants to expand the NBA to Europe, he should see this situation as a lesson when it comes to team owners given the characteristics of his future job.
Commissioners of sports leagues have the interesting combination of having the owners as bosses and having a say over who their bosses can be. Commissioners have to use that combination for the betterment of their leagues, or at least attempt to. Silver should see the Maloofs, who have proven themselves to be utterly incompetent, as an example of what not to have as a prospective NBA team owner. The desire of the Maloofs to have the celebrity of owning a team without having a financial stake in the matter is toying with the emotions of two cities that have proven to have great fan bases for basketball. That has to be avoided at all costs.
Silver still has year of apprenticeship left. He should use everything he can, like this fiasco, to perfect that apprenticeship.