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Prior to becoming commissioner, Silver was the NBA's deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for eight years. In that role, he was involved in the negotiation of the league's last three collective bargaining agreements with the National Basketball Players Association, the development of the WNBA and NBA Development League, the partnership with Turner Broadcasting to manage the NBA's digital assets, and the creation of NBA China.
Previously, Silver spent eight years as president and COO of NBA Entertainment. Since joining the NBA in 1992, Silver has also held the positions of senior VP and COO, NBA Entertainment, NBA chief of staff, and special assistant to the commissioner. During his time with NBA Entertainment, Silver was an executive producer of the IMAX movie Michael Jordan to the Max, as well as the documentary Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray? He also worked on the production side of Like Mike and The Year of the Yao.
On October 25, 2012, he was endorsed by David Stern to be the next NBA commissioner. On February 1, 2014, when Stern stepped down from his position, Silver was unanimously approved by the NBA owners to succeed him.
On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a video of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling holding a conversation with his girlfriend that included racist remarks. Silver responded on April 29, 2014, announcing that Sterling had been banned from the NBA for life. In addition, Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under the NBA constitution. Silver stripped Sterling from virtually all of his authority over the Clippers, and urged owners to vote to expel Sterling from ownership of the Clippers. Sterling was disallowed from entering any Clippers facility as well as attending any NBA games. It was one of the most severe punishments ever imposed on a professional sports owner.
On November 13, 2014, Silver published an op-ed piece in The New York Times, where he announced that he is in favor of legalized and regulated sports betting, mentioning that it should be "brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated."
On October 4, 2019, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey issued a tweet that supported the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests. Morey later deleted the tweet. On October 6, Morey and the NBA each issued separate statements addressing the original tweet; Morey said that he never intended his tweet to cause any offense while the NBA said the tweet was "regrettable". The statements drew attention and subsequent bipartisan criticism from several US politicians. On October 7, Silver defended league's response to the tweet, supporting Morey's right to freedom of expression while also accepting the right of reply from the government of and businesses from China. Soon after, Silver faced a risk between the partnership of China and the NBA. China responded negatively with decisions to possibly cut ties from the NBA. Silver publicly said, "It is inevitable that people around the world—including from America and China—will have different viewpoints over different issues. ... It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences." Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vivo responded to Silver's statements, stating, "Vivo has always insisted on the principle that the national interest is above all else and firmly opposes any remark and behavior that constitutes a challenge to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity. ... Starting today, Vivo will suspend all cooperation with the NBA."
On March 11, 2020, Silver made the decision to suspend the 2019–20 NBA season in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 4, 2020, it was announced that the season would resume for 22 of the 30 teams in the NBA Bubble, a $170 million investment to protect the players, the coaches, and the successful completion of the season. Near the end of the regular season, Silver stated that the bubble was "better than what we had envisioned."