Last week, Jerry Colangelo was appointed as the Philadelphia 76ers’ new chairman of basketball operations and special advisor to the managing general partner. Colangelo brings years of experience to the Sixers, as a one-time owner of the Phoenix Suns and Chairman of USA Basketball. He is, undoubtedly, one of the most influential figures in the game.
This exigent move was long overdue—considering the Sixers recent history of squandering draft picks, plummeting attendance, and off the court issues. Though the team had long come unglued, the state of the franchise might best be summed up by this peculiar moment in player coaching last seen during Mike Dunleavy Sr.’s dual role with Milwaukee in the 80’s.
The move came on the heels of a 1-25 (!) start for the Sixers, a record that will be etched in the 2015 NBA annals alongside Golden State’s impressive 24 game winning streak to start the year. The terrible start to the season even brought about the need for this fantastic twitter account:
— Did the Sixers win? (@DidTheSixersWin) December 17, 2015
The trigger behind Colangelo’s acquisition, however, transcends the embarrassing early season mark and is firmly rooted in NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s recent exercise of executive power. Make no mistake: Colangelo was appointed to the Sixers at the nudging of the Commissioner, and not on the volition (or competence) of Sixers GM Sam Hinkie (as the NBA front office would have you believe). The product on the floor was reaching new lows, and the league front office simply couldn’t wait for Larry Brown and his 5 minute plan.
Adam Silver Interview
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Make no mistake: Colangelo was appointed to the Sixers at the nudging of the Commissioner. [/pullquote]
Silver maintained in an interview with Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson on SiriusXM NBA Radio that he merely “facilitated” the introduction between Colangelo and Hinkie. That said, any reporter at the introductory press conference with a pulse (or any casual fan of the NBA, for that matter) could ascertain that the basis for the arrangement ran far deeper than a simple text message exchange. Plans for the intervention likely began several months—if not years ago—given Silver’s unbridled authority over league members and his (at least what we have seen so far) propensity to exercise such authority during times of franchise dysfunction.
NBA Commissioner’s Authority
Silver’s footing to penalize league members and owner activity rests exclusively in the league’s Constitution and By-Laws. Though every member organization is a private entity operating under independent ownership, members remain subject to the Association’s Constitution and By-laws—an agreement only released to the general public for the first time in the spring of 2014. The release was anything but arbitrary, with league perception (and transparency) at a crossroads following the Donald Sterling scandal.
A review of the Constitution reveals the breadth of power bestowed to the Commissioner. Article 24(a) charges Silver with “protecting the integrity of the game” and preserving “public confidence” in the league. This introductory clause merely lays the foundation for Silver’s jurisdiction. Section (l) to Article 24 sharpens the authoritative teeth of the Commissioner, allowing him authority to penalize league members to the extent the penalty would be in the “best interests” of the league.
As if Article 24 doesn’t provide enough dominion, Article 35A—appearing as a recent amendment—provides the Commissioner broad authority to levy hefty fines or even indefinite suspensions on individuals (read: non-players) guilty of conduct “prejudicial or detrimental” to the league. Article 35A functions, then, as a supplement to Article 24.
Articles 24 and 35, read together, essentially provide Silver carte blanche to penalize league members for any activity within the purview of these expansive terms of art. Virtually any activity, then, that Silver finds impeding the “integrity of the game” or “detrimental” to league objectives (whatever that may be) is subject to recourse from the front office. The subjective latitude here is unprecedented.
What this means for the Sixers and the NBA
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Any move made by Hinkie will almost certainly need Colangelo’s rubber stamp of approval. [/pullquote]
To be clear, Silver has not taken any official Constitutional action to date against the Sixers for violation of any of any of the above-listed provisions. Colangelo’s appointment is, however, a direct action by the league (Silver) to mitigate further ineptitude by the Sixers front office—and possibly to limit or avoid any further public perception that the Sixers have an alternative agenda (“tanking”). It is likely that Silver flexed his muscle under the guise of Articles 24 and 35 to convince Sixers brass to support the Colangelo intervention, though he may not have needed to cite Constitutional powers to achieve his objective—given mounting unhappiness from league owners suffering from ticket sales when the futile Sixers come to town.
Colangelo, consequently, will be taking over the reins in Philadelphia. His responses during his introductory press conference were both telling and riddled with subtext:
Everyone wants to make the right decision, and ultimately someone will make the call, and Sam is in the position to make the call on the final decision. But that’s after a lot of collaboration and discussions.
Though Colangelo expressly maintained his servient role, his comments clearly illustrate the strength of voice in the decision-making process. Any move made by Hinkie will almost certainly need Colangelo’s rubber stamp of approval.
Needless to say, given the authority of the Commissioner and his willingness to wield it, the Sixers likely had no choice but to appoint Colangelo to avoid further action from the league front office. The only ascertainable recourse for league owners unhappy with Commissioner intervention (hello, Mr. Cuban) would be to exercise removal powers, requiring 3/4 of league member votes. With player and league popularity in the midst of a renaissance, however, it is highly unlikely that Hinkie (or any other owner) would be able to corral the requisite votes for an impeachment.
For the foreseeable future, league members can plan on the Commissioner utilizing all Constitutional powers to assure they put a marketable and profitable product on the floor.