Adam Silver Talks NBA's Bubble, Social Justice, Mental Health and More with GQ

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2020

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during an interview before Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver knew putting "Black Lives Matter" on the court during the league's Orlando, Florida, bubble would alienate some fans.

However, he viewed the issue as paramount to the bedrock principles of the NBA. Silver discussed the bubble, the NBA's ongoing racial justice efforts and the league's handling of social issues in an interview with Bomani Jones for GQ:

"I think we ultimately understood that in an election cycle in the current environment, virtually anything we did would be viewed through a political lens. I mean, if mask wearing is viewed as political, certainly Black Lives Matter as a movement would be viewed as political. Having said that, and putting aside the precise expression of it, whether it said 'end racism' on our floor or 'Black Lives Matter,' I kept reminding myself of the bedrock principles underlying this league. Those values that have been in place long before me, and long before most of the governors in this league. And that is a support of racial equality and social justice. Have we been perfect on these issues? Of course not. But it's been a bedrock principle, just like it is for this country, and the country's been far from perfect on it."

Silver said that league ownership, which is predominantly white and Republican, sought to support players even if they did not necessarily agree with them politically. More than three-fourths of the NBA is Black, and most outspoken players were opponents of Donald Trump in the November election against Joe Biden. 

Trump and many prominent Republicans have vilified the Black Lives Matter movement despite its grounding principle being that the lives of Black people are as valuable as others, particularly those of white people. Silver said the NBA willingly had to "own" its support of Black Lives Matter amid the vilification. 

"I'd say part of the issue with Black Lives Matter was that we were subject to how others chose to interpret that movement," Silver said. "And I could bang the table all day long and say, 'No, our support of Black Lives Matter, that is a social justice movement in which 25 million people took to the streets in the United States to support.' Yet others have chosen to label Black Lives Matter as an anti-American Marxist organization. And I recognize because that's written on our floor, we have to own that point of view as well."

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Silver added that the NBA has a long history of pushing social justice causes, dating to Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson. Despite ratings being down upon the NBA's return in the bubble, Silver said there was no data showing fans were tuning out over the league's social justice initiatives. Ratings have been overwhelmingly down across the board in most sports.

Silver said he was proud the league was able to help give a public boost to causes that were important to players while continuing the games for fans and league partners. Before entering the bubble, players expressed concern about returning to the floor amid nationwide protests after George Floyd's death in police custody. Games were briefly stopped in August after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Besides mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Silver said a focus on the players' mental health was paramount to making the bubble a success.

"I was very concerned. And in fact, when you're down here in the bubble, there's an app. And you do a daily check-in and you answer questions about COVID symptoms. And the only other question, other than COVID symptoms, is: Would you like to speak to a mental health professional? So we asked the players that question every day, and obviously when they [want to speak with someone], it's confidential. All I know is, the overall use rate of the psychologists, on and off campus, has been fairly high.

"I'm really encouraged, and I've said this many times, but thank you again to DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, because something that was completely unacceptable a few years ago in the league is now part [of it]. Players think of it like they would going to a shooting coach."

Love and DeRozan have been among the most outspoken NBA players regarding the importance of mental health.

The NBA, which resumes play Dec. 22, will not use a bubble for the 2020-21 season.