NBA Chief Gives Back to his Alma Mater

Adam Silver, ’88, has made a significant unrestricted gift to the Law School. Silver is the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, having assumed that position in February as the successor to David Stern, who had been commissioner for thirty years. He oversees an organization with more than 1,100 employees in fifteen offices in twelve countries, whose revenue last year exceeded $5 billion. He joined the NBA in 1992 as a special assistant to Stern. He became the league’s chief of staff the next year, then served as senior vice president and later president and chief operating officer of NBA Entertainment, and became deputy commissioner of the NBA in 2006. He is credited with a leadership role in many of the NBA’s most notable accomplishments, including making basketball into a global sport (game telecasts are now carried in 215 countries and territories in forty-seven languages); creating two new leagues (the NBA Development League and the Women’s National Basketball Association); launching a 24-hour television channel; and building the network, which consists of more than sixty unique websites. He played a major part forging three labor agreements and arriving at several broadcasting contracts.

He’s also a big fan of the game, whose benefits he describes as far-reaching: “Basketball can change people’s lives. Certain values inherent in the game—discipline, teamwork, respect, and selflessness—assist those who play both on and off the court—and playing basketball at any level has the added benefit of aiding in good health and fitness.”

Before joining the NBA, Silver clerked for District Court Judge Kimba Wood and worked at Cravath Swain & Moore. He has said that the Law School provided the foundation for the successes he has enjoyed: “The Law School was a life-changing experience for me. I learned a way of thinking, a way of approaching problems, that has served me well not just in the practice of law but in my approach to business, in my approach to leadership. It’s something that has become part of my DNA, which I took with me from the Law School and have taken with me everywhere I go.” He also had a rewarding experience working at the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

His current gift is just one way that he gives back to the Law School—he led last year’s annual fund campaign, and he serves on the Visiting Committee. “I think it’s critical that the alumni continue to support this place because it’s so special,” he says. “It’s unique; it’s different than almost every other law school out there. It’s the best law school in the country, if not in the entire world. I chose to make an unrestricted gift because I thought the dean of the Law School was in the best position to know where my contribution could be most impactful.”

Bloomberg Businessweek described Silver as “ego-free … with an innate ability to bridge divides and settle complex disagreements.” Michael Alter, a 1987 graduate of the Law School who owns the Chicago WNBA team, has said, “What Adam’s great at doing is a win-win deal. … He’s a relationship guy. He understands and values long-term relationships.” “He is probably always going to be the nicest person in the room,” Chicago Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf has said. “He’s obviously one of the great guys in sports.” Silver himself states his mission succinctly. “The game of basketball is my priority,” he says. “My job is to listen to our teams, players, and fans and work with them to grow the sport on a global basis.”