LOS ANGELES — The NBA promotes individualism.
As the nation’s only major professional sport that doesn’t play with a hat or helmet, the league’s players have long been recognizable not only by their faces and their play but also by their views and personality.
It’s why the league made All-Star Weekend yet another opportunity to promote the dynamism of its players and continually works to make them as relatable as possible to the legion of fans who are eager to connect with them.
From technology to politics, NBA commissioner Adam Silver offered his views in front on an international audience before the All-Star Game, leading off with the idea that technology can alter the landscape of how basketball is consumed.
Just hours after New Orleans Pelicans’ star Anthony Davis tested out the latest version of virtual-reality goggles while shooting before Team LeBron practice, Silver discussed the ideas bandied about in the league’s annual technology summit.
It all starts with bringing fans closer to in-game experience and allowing the public to see, hear and feel what the players do.
“It's a concept called mixed reality; it's not virtual reality, it's not augmented reality, but in essence it's a new way of looking at our players and the game, that, in essence, can bring it to our fans throughout the world,” Silver said. “We recognize that we can't scale our arenas; that our arenas are practically full everywhere, and certainly the courtside seats.
“The challenge for this league is how can we then bring that experience to our well over a billion fans around the world who will never get a chance to see a game in person. So technology and creating a more immersive experience for fans is something that we spend a lot of time on at the league office. And in social media as well.
“We now have a social-media community globally estimated at roughly 1.4 billion, which is quite remarkable. And those are people who are engaging in some way with our players, or our teams, or the league office, or with their local broadcaster on events around the game.”
More controversially, social media is a tool the NBA respects as a way for fans to get to know their players off of the floor.
Occasionally, those social media posts become political, advocating for certain causes which might be divergent from views of the team’s fanbase. In this matter, the league once again expressed support for individuality, remaining in lockstep with its message of connecting players to people, regardless of the circumstance.
The issue flared up most recently just before All-Star Weekend, when Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized LeBron James for his online activism, saying he was not qualified to speak on political issues in the public sphere.
Silver fired back, saying he was “incredibly proud” of players for taking stances, and he displayed a particular sensitivity toward protecting those who are dismissed because of their lack of a formal college degree.
“Many of them go on to continue to educate themselves,” Silver said. “Whether through going back to school in the summer, taking courses, doing things post-playing career. So it frustrates me. I should also say it's not lost on me or anybody in this room that there is enormous amount of racial tension in this country, enormous amount of social injustice, and I do see a role for this league in addressing those issues.”
Silver pointed to everything tracing back to individualism and connectivity, an aspect the NBA believes is a key component to evolving in a quickly changing technological and media landscape.
Even if it’s bound to ruffle some feelings and serve as an occasional source of tension.
“I continue to encourage, and it doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with everything that's said at any given moment, but the fact that these players are not just basketball players, they're multi-dimensional,” Silver said. “They care about their communities, and they care about what's happening in their country. They then care enough to speak out, and sometimes at great risk to themselves because it's not lost on them that there are some people who will disagree with them.
“Social media is full of hate as well. So I just conclude by saying I'm really proud of our players."