In the nearly one year since he officially took over as NBA commissioner for David Stern, Adam Silver has established himself as distinctive from his predecessor in several key areas. The most obvious has been with regards to sports gambling, where Silver has essentially reversed Stern's thinking entirely. The NBA and other leagues filed a lawsuit in 2012 to block a bill that would have legalized sports gambling in New Jersey, but Silver has written an op-ed for The New York Times in support of the idea and declared its legalization inevitable.
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Silver believes in the potential benefits of legalized sports gambling so much that he's willing to do what it takes to convince his counterparts in other American sports leagues that he's right. In an interview with David Purdum for ESPN the Magazine, Silver explains what he's doing to reach out to other commissioners:
"I have talked to the commissioners in the other leagues about [legalizing sports betting]," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an exclusive interview with ESPN The Magazine in late January at the league's Manhattan office. "I leave it to them to make any public statements they want to make on it. I will say that certainly all of them are interested in having a better understanding of the issue, and I know have assigned people in their organizations to study intensively the issue as well."
In addition to the conversations between the commissioners, there have been other private meetings between counsel for the leagues to discuss the pros and cons of legalization, multiple sources with direct knowledge told ESPN. [...]
The other major professional sports leagues are not on the same page. The NFL says its opposition to legalized sports betting has not changed. Major League Baseball, while transitioning to new commissioner Rob Manfred, declined comment. The NHL's Gary Bettman has been the only commissioner to speak out since Silver's op-ed.
"I think there needs some attention to be paid to what sport is going to represent to young people," Bettman said in an interview with CNN. "Should it be viewed in the competitive team-oriented sense that it is now, or does it become a vehicle for betting, which may in effect change the atmosphere in the stadiums and in the arenas?" [...]
"It's my personal view that there should be federal legislation on this issue, in part to avoid what is happening now," Silver said. "My greatest concern is that there will be in essence a hodgepodge of regulations controlling sports betting that will vary from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction and will make it increasingly difficult to monitor betting on our very own sport."
It is fair to say that Silver faces an uphill battle here, both because he currently lacks support from the leagues with control over the issue and must figure out how to negotiate the complicated legislative and political barriers to getting any bill passed. Silver is a very smart guy, so he has identified the correct problems standing in the way of his goals, but it seems likely that this "inevitable" idea will not happen immediately.
It's possible that Silver understands as much and is simply waiting for a new generation of commissioners and owners to follow his logic. It would be wrong to read too much into Manfred's declining to comment on the issue, but it's possible that when Bettman and Goodell leave office Silver will have a better chance to win support. Perhaps he's just laying the foundation for that moment right now.
Whatever ends up occurring with sports betting, it appears that the inevitability suggested by Silver is anything but assured. If he proves to be correct, it will be because of his own work, not fate.
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