Never say never. Earlier this week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver almost said never when he declared that there isn’t a pathway “in the foreseeable future” for sovereign wealth funds to become the controlling owners in the NBA.
“I don’t want to say what could ever happen, but there’s no contemplation right now,” Silver told reporters in Las Vegas at the Associated Press Sports Editors annual convention. “I mean, it’s very important to us, putting aside sovereign wealth funds that individuals are in a position to control our teams, be responsible to the fans, be responsible to their partners and to the players.
“It’s very important to us that there be a person [in charge], and this is independent of sovereign wealth funds. I think that in terms of the connection with the community, the connection with the players and their other partners in the league,” he added.
In theory, it sounds good. But, theory isn’t where we live.
The sports world is still scarred from what the PGA did earlier this year. We watched a league and commissioner stand tall against the endless amount of Saudi money that was being thrown at them. And then we watched a league and commissioner “bend the knee” as soon as the price rose to a level in which they were fine with being bought — excuse the rest of us for having PTSD, it’s a touchy subject.
A few weeks ago, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund purchased a 5 percent stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment — they own the Washington Wizards. Under the league’s rules, that 5 percent investment stake is the most a sovereign wealth fund can have in a franchise.
But, isn’t that how these things start?
The wealthy are patient. They get a piece of something they want, then they show up with a blank check and eventually buy the rest.
In October, the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves will play two preseason games in Abu Dhabi. Here’s the link with more info, it’s literally on the NBA’s website. And just last month, Front Office Sports raised the question if the NBA could be open for more business from Saudi Arabia.
“In part, the reason why we’ve opened up investment opportunities to private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, is because we’re running out of individuals, frankly, who are in a position to write those kinds of checks, and especially when you’re not going to be the control(ling) owner of the team,” said Silver.
The NBA is a global game that’s playing catchup to soccer. And if it wants to continue to grow — as it expands into different continents — it’ll have to accept more money from people outside of the United States that have deeper pockets. American arrogance is thinking you can take a game that was created by a Canadian, make it your own, and expand it across the globe, but run it according to “America standards.” Pay attention, this is going to get interesting.