Adam Silver is prepared to take pro basketball to a place David Stern was reluctant to go.
Does it make much sense to comment about the NBA All-Star Game itself? It was typical of all such games: big numbers and high-flying dunks on offense; token efforts on defense.
Yet that’s why hoops fans tune into the action. They expect to see stars like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and LeBron James fast-break their way to stylish statistics; the game didn’t disappoint in that regard.
Still, the All-Star Game itself wasn’t the biggest news. Nor was the “Slam Dunk” contest that ended late Saturday with a thud. Nothing that happened during this Big Easy weekend of bling and basketball trumped the crowning of Adam Silver as the official head of the NBA.
Silver, the top lieutenant of former commissioner David Stern, stepped into the role with the boldness of a man who understands what has slowed the game’s popularity.
The NBA has challenges, Silver told the NBA world.
One of the biggest is the quality of its product. The league has roster after roster of young athletes who are in the NBA too early and who lack the fundamentals needed to excel there.
The practice has made a sham of the word “student-athlete.” Not one player that coach John Calipari has recruited to Kentucky has come for the long haul, but Calipari isn't the lone coach who uses college hoops to feed the pros. Each has come for the exposure that one season at Kentucky can give him, and then he’s off to the NBA, ill-prepared to compete in too many cases.
These men have dismissed the value of a college education – and the NCAA and university presidents have allowed them to do so – and have shown how big-time college athletics and academics are as alike as curling and a curling iron.
During his reign, Stern missed that fact. He often seemed oblivious to what was happening in the training ground for NBA talent. The bastard child that Stern’s D-League has been is neither popular nor productive, and no one of note has gone straight from high school to that league.
Silver sounds as if he understands the limits of the D-League and the benefits of the college game to the quality of the NBA game. College puts the next stars in our minds, but they need to come into the league with skills that can translate quickly into success.
That’s a step the mercurial Stern should have taken as he watched the sport he nurtured for 30 years slip into lousy play and even lousier players. Fans might still be watching on TV and buying tickets, but a discerning fan hasn’t liked the look of the NBA for a while now.
If Silver has any doubts about how poorly the game is being played, tell him to watch video of a couple of Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings or New York Knicks games.
What he’ll find is the same empty feeling that NBA fans around the world had after the much-anticipated Slam Dunk contest ended with a yawn.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)