Columns & Blogs

The Stern-Silver handoff is a distinct shift in style for NBA commissioner

There are two kinds of bosses: The ones you work for and the ones you work with.

Outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern made sure underlings knew they worked for him. I’m thinking Stern’s successor, Adam Silver, will be more a “come work with me” boss.

Either style works, so long as it’s genuine to the person in charge. Stern, who retired Saturday, lasted 30 years as commissioner and left before anyone pushed him out. That’s because he’s very smart and even more willful.

He could argue with anyone, and behind closed doors he was often loud and profane when challenged. He herded 30 owners into a relatively cohesive group by knowing when to listen and when to bully. (Although over the last few years I sensed less and less listening and more and more bullying).

From the two times I’ve met Silver and the impressions of others who know him well, he’s more collaborative and more deliberate in gauging others’ opinions before forming a decision.

He’s a good listener.

Don’t misconstrue that for soft. Silver can be decisive and assertive, as he demonstrated during labor negotiations. But he won’t come across as the bear Stern often projected. And he shouldn’t; that would be play-acting.

Stern has been celebrated quite festively the past week and should be. He shepherded the league from a time when NBA Finals games weren’t even on live television to this global enterprise. He did a lot to salvage players’ reputations from times when there was a presumption half the league was doing drugs habitually.

But it feels time for a fresh start. Stern seemed exasperated and short-tempered on a regular basis the past few years. He was wearing out the people around him with his stridency.

Replacing the guy they worked for with a guy they’ll work with will be a net plus.

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