Wesley Mann—August
April 15, 2015

Running the National Basketball Association is like fulfilling that famous curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Since becoming commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014, Adam Silver’s interesting times have included Donald Sterling’s racist rant, Bruce Levenson’s mea culpa, drug-related suspensions of players, salary-cap debates and player-lockout rumors. And he’s handled all these potentially divisive issues with openness, fairness and integrity.

Most basketball insiders will probably point to Adam’s negotiation of the NBA’s nine-year, $24 billion TV deal as his greatest accomplishment. I don’t agree. While it’s true that Adam has his eyes on the financial prize, it’s even more important that the NBA proves itself worthy of all the money, not just through offering the highest level of athleticism on the court but also by providing the highest level of professionalism off of it. For Adam, just as important as giving the fans great games is giving them great role models. Achieving that goal would be his greatest legacy.

Abdul-Jabbar, a TIME columnist, is a six-time NBA champion

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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