Adam Silver spoke with authority, boldness and precision. When the NBA commissioner made the first major decision of his tenure, banning Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, Silver spoke as if he had been groomed for the job for some time.
In fact, he had.
In October 2012, when David Stern announced he would retire 15 months later, the NBA owners immediately anointed his deputy, Silver, as the successor.
In September 2013, Bud Selig announced he would retire 16 months later. We're halfway there, with no new baseball commissioner on deck.
That sets the stage for what could be some mighty interesting conversations this week, when baseball's owners meet in New York. While Selig and a small group of owners have launched preliminary discussions about a successor, according to people familiar with the matter but forbidden to speak publicly about it, other owners say they have no idea that any process has started.
"A lot of clubs want to see a search," said one, "and they want to see it soon."
If Selig has his way, there will be no announcement of any formal search. He fears that qualified candidates might excuse themselves from consideration if their names are disclosed. He worries that even putting forth a timetable might hamper the search.
Yet, even within ownership circles, the absence of information fuels speculation. Could Selig change his mind about retirement, as he has done previously? Could a search committee decide he is the best candidate and persuade him to stay on, at least through the 2016 labor talks? Could the executive council of owners decide to run the sport itself until after the labor talks, then appoint a commissioner?
The answers are no, no and no, at least from those close to Selig. That those questions have arisen at the ownership level speaks to a process that values confidentiality over consensus, at least so far.
That is remarkable, given how Selig treasures consensus. He works the phones like a lobbyist, trying to ensure every vote is 30-0. For now, he is gathering input, very deliberately.
We hear that Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox and Arte Moreno of the Angels each is among those involved in the early talks about a new commissioner. Ultimately, though, would the owners simply let Selig pick his successor?
"Absolutely not," one said.
Selig has positioned his deputy, Rob Manfred, as his successor. Manfred is the logical choice, as baseball's longtime labor negotiator, and indications are that owners are not inclined to favor candidates from outside the sport.
Still, if the owners want a full search that would allow for at least the possibility of someone besides Manfred, time is of the essence. If Manfred is not the selection, then a new commissioner would need a fair amount of time to get up to speed, because labor talks would command his immediate attention.
Selig refused to return calls for this column. When he spoke to the Associated Press sports editors last month, he reiterated his intention to retire but declined to explain how a successor would be selected.
"The only thing I can tell you, the only thing I'm going to say about it," he said, "is it's going to be a very comprehensive process, and it needs to be quiet and thoughtful if it's going to be successful."
It needs to be more inclusive, and perhaps a little less quiet, if Selig does not want to risk a fight among a new wave of owners with no great loyalty to him. The new commissioner will need a unified front when collective bargaining talks start. For a man who takes deserved pride in two decades of labor peace, Selig ought not to leave a divided house of owners behind him.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times