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Commentary — NBA’s Commissioner Silver Is Kind, But Not Weak

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — It’s one thing to construct a Lamborghini one washer and screw at a time.

It’s another to maintain and even improve its performance.

Adam Silver is now the guy entrusted with the latter.

He is a new NBA commissioner of whom greatness has been thrust upon, his charge to continue growing a league that his predecessor built from a marginal product into a global operation.

I’ll always believe Pete Rozelle had a more significant impact than any other commissioner in American sports history. The NFL is our most popular and powerful sport. Rozelle made it that way.

But if this were a race among those closest to Rozelle in terms of results, David Stern long ago lapped the field. He spent three decades building a resume that ranks among the finest for a sports commissioner, but even the most successful leaders and their message tend to grow repetitive over time.

As productive as Stern was, he wasn’t a favorite of NBA fans. He came off as arrogant. Brash. Smug. Owning a desire for everyone in a room to believe he was the smartest. Often, he was the bully on the playground. I can’t imagine being on the wrong end of closed-door meetings on his worst days.

Silver appears different. There is a great chance he is the smartest person in most rooms he enters, but his is a more reserved, welcoming, engaging demeanor. He’s the peacemaker on the playground.

Unless, of course, when he isn’t rightly banishing a racist owner from the league for life. Then he can do angry with the best of them.

Silver “is a very likable guy,” said Marc Spears, who covers the NBA for Yahoo! Sports. “But that doesn’t mean you should take his kindness for his weakness. He’s a nice guy, a guy who’s great to be around, very bright. But don’t step on his foot, because if you do, he will be quick and decisive with his action.”

He was with Donald Sterling, banishing the Los Angeles Clippers owner from the NBA for life after his taped racist rant, a move in Silver’s first months as commissioner that earned him overnight respect and reverence from players and fans alike.

Sterling was a main topic of Silver’s address to the media Tuesday evening where the commissioner spoke about issues discussed during a four-hour meeting of the league’s board of governors.

Donald and Shelly Sterling and their ownership trial. A new TV deal. The state of officiating. LeBron James going home. How successful Las Vegas has been staging the summer league and what other NBA events the city might secure in the future, including what seemed bizarre (a midseason tournament?) and sensible (a season-ending awards show).

“It’s great, frankly, to see Vegas on its way back,” Silver said. “It’s a great destination for us and our teams. I know our owners enjoy coming here. There aren’t many cities in America that have the kind of room nights Las Vegas does. We gathered 1,500 people here this week for meetings. We’re looking at ways for the league to create excitement.”

I have no idea what a midseason tournament in Las Vegas would resemble or how many teams would participate or if it would be seeded or if there would be a bracket or, as one writer suggested, the winner would receive a trophy or loaf of bread.

The feeling was fairly unanimous, however: Not all new ideas are good ones. An awards show, much like the one staged by the NHL annually in Las Vegas, would do well. A midseason tournament seems, well, sort of loony.

But there is definitely a different vibe to how Silver conducts news conferences when compared to Stern, which helps shape the opinion most have drawn about Silver since he assumed the top spot in February: That while no one can debate those historic strides the NBA made under Stern — a $5 billion enterprise, games televised in more than 200 countries, player salaries growing to an average of $5 million — the time had come for a new face with a fresh perspective to lead.

Silver “is bringing the NBA into the Internet world, the computer world, the Silicon Valley world, the young world,” Spears said. “In my opinion, (Stern) was the greatest commissioner ever, but (Silver) was able to sit back and listen to everyone’s gripes over the years and come up with his own ideas. He watched and learned from (Stern’s) successes and mistakes. It’s early, but the way he handled the Sterling situation won the world over.

“I’m not sure he cares if (fans like him), as long as they keep coming to games. But they didn’t boo him at the (NBA) draft, so that says a lot. You shouldn’t be able to become (this popular) so fast, but he has.”

Stern took three decades to construct the Lamborghini, one washer and screw at a time.

Now, Adam Silver tries to make it faster.

Already, he has accelerated into the hearts of those who play for and follow his league.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.