Global growth, social media, and technology are allowing professional basketball to engage fans in the arena and online.

Adam Silver is one of the longest-tenured team members in the National Basketball Association. But he doesn’t spend much time on the court. In more than 26 years, Silver, who briefly practiced law before joining the league in 1992, worked his way up from a role player into a key architect of the league’s expansive and successful strategy.

In an age of cord cutting, constant distraction, and rapidly changing media and sports habits, professional basketball has bucked many trends. Television ratings are up by double digits so far this season, and attendance has set records for four years straight. Relations with the players’ union are relatively placid. NBA players compete with global soccer stars for the largest social media followings. The league has encouraged players such as LeBron James and Steph Curry when they assume vocal roles in politics, culture, and social action. Deep-pocketed owners, many of them business titans in their own right, have been pushing prices for franchises ever higher. The Houston Rockets sold in 2017 for US$2.2 billion, and the Brooklyn Nets recently sold 50 percent of the team at a valuation of US$2.3 billion. The quality of play sets the global standard.

The NBA also occupies a unique and growing role in the entertainment and media world. Beyond being one of the biggest providers of sports programming, it has expanded its lines of business into adjacent areas: the WNBA; the NBA G League, a developmental league; the NBA 2K League, an e-sports league based on the NBA’s video game NBA 2K; NBA League Pass, a popular video streaming service of live games; and a host of experiments with leading technology platforms including Facebook, YouTube, and Tencent.

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