There is one voice that has been leading the NBA through the current coronavirus crisis. It’s not the billionaire owners or the uber-rich players. It’s league commissioner Adam Silver.
When, and if, the NBA resumes its 2019-20 season, it will be Silver leading the league’s revival. It was he who had warned the owners of an impending crisis weeks before the NBA suspended its season. Doing so earned him a certain level of credibility on issues revolving around the virus.
The NBA could have imploded if not for the direction of Silver, now in his sixth season as the head of one of professional sports most profitable enterprises. For Silver, it’s all about relationships. Most importantly, it’s the relationships Silver has with NBA players.
The majority of NBA players trust Silver to do what’s right for them, the league, and the game. Players trust him enough that beginning today 25 percent of players’ paychecks will be withheld. Teams will keep that money and can spend it as they wish. Players will eventually get it back, but in the current situation there are some smaller market teams that need the extra cash.
The NBA’s stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry are all-in with Silver. The league’s highest-paid players are all on committees that engage with Silver on a regular basis. So far, the players have not used, nor ever threatened to use, the force majeure clause in the current collective bargaining agreement.
The force majeure clause would allow players to recover a percentage of their salaries if games were cancelled. There has been no announcement of how the NBA will proceed with the season. There is a possibility that the remaining games on the regular season schedule could be cancelled and the league would begin with the playoffs. If that is the case, players do have a mechanism to recoup some of their lost salaries.
It’s unlikely to come to that as Silver has been forthcoming with the players association about league revenue. What is unsure is how long the goodwill will last. Silver and the NBA project a losses in the billions for 2020-21. With losses in revenue comes a shrinking salary cap and that means less money for players.