Adam Silver: My job is to protect NBA players' free speech

CNNMoney's Ahiza Garcia sits down with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to discuss why his players are more socially active than some other athletes and how basketball fits into the American Dream.

Posted: Feb 19, 2018 11:54 AM
Updated: Feb 19, 2018 11:54 AM

NBA stars are not afraid to speak their minds.

They have worn "I can't breathe" shirts during pregame warm-ups to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, while onstage at the ESPYs in July 2016, decried police shootings of people of color, and spoke out about racial tensions in the United States.

James called President Donald Trump "a bum," while Steph Curry called him an asset "if you remove the 'et' from asset."

NBA players have a reputation as being more vocal on social and political issues than any other group of professional athletes. And there's a reason for that.

"Just look at the players who become stars in the NBA. They're very diverse," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, in an exclusive interview with CNN. "I think part of the reason NBA players are more active is that it's been part of the culture of this league for generations and passed down to them."

Silver said the "sense of an obligation, social responsibility, a desire to speak up directly about issues that are important" is something that's been passed down over the decades. It's "part of being an NBA player."

He used the example of Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell, who was very engaged with social causes and in combating racism.

"Fifty-five years ago he played in our All-Star game in Los Angeles and was the MVP. That was 1963. It was also the same year as Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington D.C. that Bill Russell attended," Silver said. "I think about that through line from Bill Russell right through to 2018 and LeBron James."

Silver said the league wants NBA players to "be multi-dimensional people and fully participate as citizens."

He noted that while it's not his job to spur players to activism he has to make sure they feel "safe" to speak out without fearing for their careers.

That's a luxury not every league can offer.

In the NFL, for example, former quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a protest in 2016 to shed light on the treatment of black Americans, particularly by police. The protest took the form of kneeling during the performance of the National Anthem, which caused substantial controversy for the league. He has yet to be picked up by another team since waiving his contract with the 49ers in 2017.

Related: NBA Commish on why the NBA didn't televise the All-Star Game draft

NBA players' long-stanging attitude toward social activism has lined up with the changing expectations of some big corporations. More companies, including the NBA, are taking a stand.

"All CEOs, all big corporations these days really have no choice," Silver said. "It's an expectation from their customers that they're going to take a position."

He said that in the past the advice was to generally avoid taking a position and being too controversial.

"I've talked to lots of CEOs, corporate leaders in other industries," he said, "and I think increasingly their view is they are forced sometimes, as uncomfortable as that may be, to take a position on important things that are happening in society. It doesn't mean you have to touch every issue and there may still be some third rails out there."

Under Silver's leadership the NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina over a law restricting bathroom use for transgender people that was widely criticized as discriminatory.

"I think in this day and age, you really do have to stand for something," Silver said.

It's commonly accepted that NBA fans, like the players they cheer for, are typically more diverse than those of other sports. Silver noted that NBA fans tend to embrace many of the same values that the league has advocated for, including anti-discrimination policies.

"I think ultimately to the extent we're a brand -- there's an NBA brand -- I think that us upholding those values is good business because I think it's consistent with how people see our brand," he said.

Related: NBA working with players to head off national anthem tensions

Silver also talked about how basketball plays into the American Dream.

"Twenty-five percent of our players in the league are from outside the United States," he said. "The U.S. has opened its borders to them based on their ability to do something at an incredibly high level. To me it's the ultimate meritocracy."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 72254

Reported Deaths: 3023
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15503725
Lake7447274
Elkhart476082
Allen3789161
St. Joseph337381
Hamilton2668105
Vanderburgh188813
Hendricks1833106
Cass17749
Johnson1719118
Porter126639
Clark117846
Tippecanoe117711
Madison91565
LaPorte88330
Howard87265
Kosciusko84012
Marshall77122
Bartholomew76647
Floyd76045
Monroe72230
Delaware70152
Dubois67612
Boone66246
Noble65929
Hancock64138
Vigo58610
Jackson5725
Warrick57030
LaGrange55610
Shelby54227
Grant52130
Dearborn49328
Morgan45934
Clinton4093
Henry37320
Wayne35410
White35410
Montgomery34821
Lawrence33627
Decatur33232
Harrison32123
Putnam2868
Miami2672
Daviess26320
Scott26310
Greene24634
Franklin23813
Jasper2272
DeKalb2264
Jennings22012
Gibson2144
Steuben2063
Ripley1977
Fayette1837
Perry18112
Carroll1772
Starke1767
Posey1670
Orange16624
Wabash1633
Wells1622
Fulton1612
Jefferson1552
Whitley1506
Knox1490
Tipton1336
Spencer1313
Washington1311
Huntington1213
Newton11510
Randolph1154
Clay1095
Sullivan1031
Adams952
Jay860
Owen841
Pulaski761
Rush744
Brown731
Fountain682
Blackford622
Ohio624
Benton600
Pike520
Parke511
Vermillion500
Switzerland450
Crawford440
Martin430
Union370
Warren221
Unassigned0202

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 98675

Reported Deaths: 3652
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18006522
Cuyahoga13269498
Hamilton9493253
Lucas5207321
Montgomery422991
Summit3486220
Marion291945
Butler286163
Mahoning2502255
Pickaway238042
Stark1783139
Warren174238
Lorain171378
Columbiana163460
Trumbull1500106
Fairfield133231
Delaware127319
Licking122449
Clark113314
Lake108738
Wood101358
Clermont90211
Medina89635
Miami81938
Tuscarawas77214
Portage74661
Allen71844
Greene66212
Belmont61426
Richland59611
Mercer59113
Erie56427
Ashtabula55946
Geauga55244
Wayne52558
Ross4504
Huron3935
Darke38527
Ottawa37126
Sandusky36816
Athens3561
Hancock3553
Madison35310
Holmes3276
Lawrence2670
Auglaize2446
Union2371
Scioto2221
Muskingum2211
Jefferson2192
Putnam20217
Washington20022
Knox1997
Seneca1963
Coshocton1906
Shelby1864
Preble1802
Crawford1725
Morrow1682
Hardin16112
Champaign1592
Clinton1586
Highland1481
Fulton1471
Logan1452
Wyandot1428
Ashland1403
Defiance1394
Williams1323
Brown1262
Perry1213
Guernsey1167
Henry1152
Hocking1159
Carroll1105
Fayette1100
Monroe9118
Pike760
Jackson730
Van Wert711
Paulding650
Gallia621
Adams592
Meigs360
Vinton302
Morgan250
Harrison241
Noble160
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 63°
Angola
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 61°
Huntington
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 60°
Decatur
61° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 61°
Van Wert
61° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Sunny, Seasonable Saturday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events