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How do you become an NBA Commissioner?

The NBA is more than just a professional basketball league, but a multi-billion dollar global organization. With so many commitments, from sponsorships, contracts, legal obligations, and of course basketball-related activities, the NBA as a collective needs someone who will hold the league’s best interests at heart and do everything in their power to further their agenda. This comes in the form of the NBA Commissioner, who is effectively the chief executive and representative of the NBA.

How do you become an NBA Commissioner? To become an NBA Commissioner, the owners of the NBA teams must vote for you to assume the role. It is encouraged for the NBA Commissioner candidate to come from a legal, political or business background; previous experience within the NBA organization or a similar capacity is also a bonus. The current NBA Commissioner is Adam Silver, who has been in the role since 2014.

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What does the NBA Commissioner do?

The NBA Commissioner is the representative and head of the NBA. To better understand what the commissioner does, let’s take a look at the different groups of people the commissioner (as the NBA’s representative) has to deal with, also known as stakeholders, and what their interests and agendas are. The commissioner has to make strategic decisions and actions that furthers the NBA’s goals, and thus has to manage stakeholder interests without sacrificing the interests of the NBA.

First off are the team owners, who voted the commissioner to their position. They want to make sure that they are able to maximize their revenue and profits, while also holding the interest of their respective franchises, including coaches, managers, and other staff. Next up are the players, who want to forward their own demands (individually or as a union), whether it regards receiving a portion of the basketball-related revenue, protecting their welfare, and speaking up for causes that are important to the players.

Other stakeholders include the various brands and businesses that the NBA partners with, in regards to sponsorships, broadcasting rights, and other deals. These stakeholders want to ensure that the NBA upholds the end of their respective deals. The commissioner also has legal obligations to the government and other regulatory bodies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Arguably the NBA’s biggest and most-valued stakeholders are the fans themselves; they are the stakeholder around which most of, if not all, of the NBA’s strategic decisions revolve around. This includes everything from ticketing, merchandising, broadcasting, community interactions, and philanthropic activities, and more. Fans are also indirectly involved, or at the very least impacted, by the NBA’s relationship with other stakeholders. To put it simply, the fans want to ensure that the NBA is providing the best sports & entertainment experience at the best cost possible.

Therefore, after understanding the various stakeholders of the NBA and their interests, the role of the NBA Commissioner becomes clearer. The NBA Commissioner has to draft rules that manage the financial aspects of team ownership and player contracts. The NBA Commissioner must also set the rules for the way basketball is played, as well as management of the day-to-day activities throughout the season. The NBA Commissioner must also negotiate contracts with brands and companies, and create initiatives to grow and retain the global fandom as well as engage the community. It takes a mix of political, legal, and business acumen to succinctly manage all responsibilities of an NBA Commissioner.

How long does an NBA Commissioner serve?

The NBA Commissioner role doesn’t have a set term limit. The commissioner chooses to step down at their own choosing, at which point a new commissioner is voted in. The longest-tenured NBA Commissioner was David Stern, who served for 30 years from February 1984, before stepping down in February of 2014. The shortest-tenured NBA Commissioner was Larry O’Brien, who served for a little less than 9 years, immediately preceding David Stern.

How many NBA Commissioners have there been?

There have been 5 NBA Commissioners in the history of the league. The first NBA Commissioner was Maurice Podoloff, who served from the league’s founding in 1946 until 1963. He was followed by J. Walter Kennedy, who served from 1963 until 1975. Larry O’Brien (after whom the NBA Finals trophy is named) was the commissioner from 1975-1984. David Stern served for three consecutive decades, from 1984 until 2014, after which Adam Silver took over the role, and he still holds the role at present.

Full List of NBA Commissioners:

Complete List of NBA Commissioners
NBA CommissionerStartedFinishedYears in post
Maurice Podoloff1946196317
J. Walter Kennedy1963197512
Larry O’Brien197519849
David Stern1984201430
Adam Silver2014Present8+

Who is the current NBA Commissioner?

The current NBA Commissioner is Adam Silver. Coming from a legal background, Silver’s time in the NBA started in 1992, presiding in various roles. Under the training of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern, Silver was the acting Deputy Commissioner from 2006 until 2014.

Right after David Stern stepped down after 30 years (and had publicly endorsed Silver as his replacement), the NBA team owners voted to appoint Silver as the new NBA Commissioner on February 1st, 2014.

Silver’s tenure as the NBA Commissioner has so far been well-received. He has taken the NBA to new levels of popularity around the world, bringing financial success to the league, the teams, and the players. This has come through a series of lucrative deals, including a new jersey deal with Nike and broadcasting rights, as well as strategic penetration into markets such as China and Africa. Silver has also been a driving force for social causes. Silver has also faced his share of challenges, including using his authority to oust an owner for racist remarks, as well as navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Silver has generally been praised for his actions and values, and many believe the NBA is in good hands with Silver at the helm.

With the various responsibilities, activities, and commitments an NBA Commissioner has to juggle, finding the right person for the job isn’t as straightforward. Someone who understands the legal and political spheres within the business world is a must, but prior experience in the NBA is ideal. The team owners, who are among the biggest stakeholders of the NBA, prioritize these experiences and skill sets highly, and as of now, the commissioners have done an excellent job in increasing the global popularity of the NBA and turning it into a multi-billion dollar business.

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