The Path to the Best In House Job Ever: NBA Commissioner

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 08, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Until a couple of weeks ago, nine out of ten people would've stared at you blankly if you had said the name "Adam Silver." The tenth was most assuredly a Lakers fan, and was glad that David "basketball reasons" Stern was finally gone. Silver has long been the anonymous sidekick of the former commissioner, and outside of those few celebrating Angelinos, remained anonymous even after he took the NBA's seat of power on February 1, 2014.

And then, Donald Sterling happened. Silver, after announcing Sterling's lifetime ban and fine, trended on Twitter.

As a lifelong sports fan, who once dreamed (okay, still dreams) of being a general manager of a sports team (or a commissioner of a league), it got me wondering: how did Adam Silver go from law student to NBA superpower?

Law School to Clerkship

If you had to guess, you'd probably say top-tier school, clerkship, BigLaw.

No surprise there. Silver obtained his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago before clerking for Manhattan federal Judge Kimba Wood, reports The Wall Street Journal. The real shocker is an anecdote from his time as a clerk: he once hired a singing stripper for the judge as a prank. She praised Silver's "marvelous wit," but told the WSJ that she declined the song-and-dance offer.

BigLaw to NBA

After his clerkship, he briefly turned to BigLaw, at Cravath, as a litigation associate. He wasn't happy with his life, so he reached out to one of his father's former legal colleagues, David Stern, reports USA Today.

He got his start in the NBA as a special assistant to the Commissioner, filling in while future WNBA President Val Ackerman was on maternity leave. Silver stuck around, and ended up handling a number of vital marketing, entertainment, and expansion projects. Eventually, he became Commissioner Stern's right hand man, before being named his successor when Stern stepped down after thirty years on the job.

Polar Opposites

What does it take to be Commissioner, besides connections, a top-tier degree, and BigLaw line on the resume?

Though Silver and Stern had similar paths to the top seat (Stern went from Columbia Law to BigLaw to NBA General Counsel to Commissioner), the two couldn't be more different personality-wise.

Many (especially Lakers fans) have labeled retired Commissioner David Stern as heavy-handed, combative, and a "bad cop" to Silver's "good cop." Silver? He's described as calm and funny. The WSJ called him "Stern's photographic negative: Where the commissioner can be argumentative, caustic and stubborn, Silver is dispassionate, congenial and practical."

So there you have it, all you need is brains, personality, and opportunity. Sounds reasonable, don't it?

Is this the best in-house gig ever? Let us know on Twitter at @FindLawLP.

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