DURHAM, N.C. – Duke’s influence and impact in the National Basketball Association (NBA) goes far beyond the 19 former players, two general managers and countless other scouts and coaches currently working in the league. On Oct. 25, 2013, Duke alumnus Adam Silver was named the heir to NBA Commissioner David Stern, effective in February of 2014, after spending the past two decades working in various capacities in the NBA.
Silver, a 1984 graduate with a degree in Political Science, has big shoes to fill. Under Stern’s watch, the NBA has seen incredible growth, with revenue increasing 30-fold, games being watched around the globe and increasing the number of teams in the league. For Silver, this is an opportunity of a lifetime, which in part took flight because of his experience at Duke.
“It was at Duke that I developed a deeper passion and appreciation for the game of basketball,” Silver said in an exclusive interview with GoDuke.com. “I also learned about the power of great brands and the importance of a passionate fan base. And of course my political science degree comes in handy when I'm negotiating with the Chinese Sports Authority!”
Silver, a native of New York, N.Y., first walked on Duke’s campus as a freshman in the fall of 1980. At the time, Duke Basketball had spent the previous three years flourishing under head coach Bill Foster, reaching the 1978 Final Four, winning two ACC Championships and tallying a 73-24 record. When Foster stepped down to take a job at South Carolina 1980, a new coach named Mike Krzyzewski took over at the helm of the program.
In Krzyzewski’s first three years, the Blue Devils tallied a 38-44 overall record, while finishing no higher than tied for fifth in the ACC. Despite his early struggles, Duke gave Krzyzewski an opportunity, something that Silver took to heart.
“I was an undergrad during probably the most challenging four-year stretch in the history of the men’s basketball program,” Silver said. “But one of the most important lessons I learned came out of that lack of success. The administration and Tom Butters, the then Athletic Director, stayed with Coach K despite the basketball team not making the NCAA tournament and two seasons with a losing record in coach’s first three years. It demonstrated to me the importance of a long-term commitment to building a program the right way.”
Following his Duke experience, Silver attended the University of Chicago where he earned his law degree in 1988. Soon after earning his degree, Silver worked as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood and then for two and a half years as a litigation associate in New York, before being hired as David Stern’s special assistant in 1992. As his special assistant, Silver became involved in every facet of the organization during a great time of expansion. During Stern’s nearly 30-year tenure as Commissioner of the NBA, revenue has increased to a projected $5 billion and television revenue has jumped to a projected $1.3 billion. The league has added seven franchises and the average player salary increased from roughly $250,000 to almost $5 million.
While the popularity of the NBA continues to grow, the number of Duke alums in the league has not wavered. Under Coach K’s guidance, Duke has had 45 NBA Draft selections, including 25 in the first round, 17 NBA Lottery picks, and 18 All-Star selections. While these staggering numbers may surprise some, Silver believes that Duke’s success in the NBA is a direct correlation to the strength of the institution as a whole.
“A Duke University education instills in the players the confidence and determination to play the game at the highest level,” explained Silver. “Their success undoubtedly also comes from the strong and consistent leadership that drives the basketball program and prepares players to perform -- and be successful -- in high pressure situations. And the extraordinary Duke experience produces great leaders not only on the court but in management positions: two of Coach K's former players currently serve as NBA team Presidents and General Managers: Billy King (Nets) and Danny Ferry (Hawks).”
Since being named President and Chief Operating Office of NBA Entertainment in 1998, Silver has played a significant role in the growth of the NBA. His accomplishments include the development of NBA TV, NBA.com, and the overseeing of game telecasts that are now being carried in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages. Silver also takes advantage of the rapid growth in digital media to make NBA basketball even more accessible to fans around the world.
In addition, Silver has been instrumental in the negotiations of the last two television agreements, the last three collective bargaining agreements with the NBA Players Association, the development of the WNBA and NBA Development League.
“The opportunities for this league are limitless, truly limitless,” said Silver at an Oct. 25th press conference. “I am honored, thrilled, and will do my absolute best to grow this league and this industry, and only try to do it in the same way that David [Stern] has done over the past 20 years.”
Silver has been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Sports by BusinessWeek, the Sporting News and the SportsBusiness Journal, as well as by Time Magazine on their list of Global Business Influentials, which features 20 of the world’s leading corporate executives.
Silver, who has been called by some the “anti-Stern” due to his outgoing nature and calm presence, has been Deputy Commissioner of the NBA since 2006.
Despite being one of the most influential people in sports, Silver still remains active in the Duke community serving on the Library Advisory Board as well as the Athletics Development Board on campus.
“It’s important for me to give back to the community that gave -- and continues to give-- so much to me,” Silver said. “I consider President Brodhead, Roy Bostock, Kevin White, and Coach K all to be important mentors in my life and career.”