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It sounds as though the NBA may eventually set up shop on Amazon

Commissioner Adam Silver’s comments at Code Commerce hint at what may be inevitable.

Basketball player LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up for a shot against Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada/Pool/Getty Images
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Search for New York Knicks jerseys on Amazon and you’ll find a mishmash of results. Some Porzingis jerseys. Some jerseys for Derrick Rose, who’s no longer on the team. But certainly nothing that looks like an official NBA storefront.

Recent comments from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, however, indicate that may change in the future.

Last week, Silver sat for an interview at Recode’s Code Commerce event alongside Michael Rubin, the chairman of the sports e-commerce company Fanatics. Fanatics runs the NBA’s online shop and also sells a wide variety of licensed team sports apparel like jerseys and hats through

When I asked Silver onstage if there were reasons why the NBA wouldn’t want to sell on Amazon — partnering instead with Fanatics — I was surprised by the answer.

“From an NBA standpoint, we’re very much in business with Amazon,” Silver said. “Michael is entering into a relationship — with Fanatics — with Amazon where if you go to Amazon, which most people do ... if you’re thinking of Amazon as a place to go to get that Porzingis jersey, you’re going to be led to Fanatics. So in essence, we exist as part of that larger ecosystem.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of this other than that any deal between Fanatics, the NBA and Amazon would be news to me. But Silver kept talking, moving on to discuss Amazon as a potential media partner for the NBA, and I didn’t cut him off to ask a follow-up question. (Yes, I regret it.)

So afterward, I asked Fanatics about Silver’s comments. A Fanatics spokesman told me that the company hasn’t held any talks with Amazon about such a deal. Weird.

Then a person familiar with Silver’s thinking told me that Silver was simply speculating about the way things seem to be headed — even though he used the phrase “entering into a relationship,” which certainly seemed to indicate an imminent deal. Weirder.

This is my best guess — and it’s a guess — about what’s going on: The NBA and Fanatics have probably talked to each other about the right way to engage with Amazon to have some type of presence there. And maybe they’ve agreed on a partnership that makes sense. But those talks haven’t involved Amazon. Yet.

If you’re the NBA, it’s hard to ignore the revenue potential of Amazon as the biggest online shopping destination in the U.S.

It’s also hard to ignore the potential benefit of having an official relationship with Amazon that could push the e-commerce giant to limit any unauthorized resellers of NBA apparel that may pop up on its marketplace. This is one of the reasons Nike finally started doing business with Amazon recently, Nike exec Heidi O’Neill confirmed in a separate interview at Code Commerce.

On the Fanatics side, I have many more questions about why an Amazon partnership would make sense — especially since part of Fanatics’ pitch to sports leagues is that everything on its sites is licensed and approved apparel. Perhaps there’s a middle ground where the NBA gets some type of official treatment on Amazon but Fanatics still plays a differentiated and vital role in the sales process.

Either way, it certainly sounds as though the head of the NBA thinks something will happen between the parties in the future. Here’s the full interview from Code Commerce, which also included my Recode colleague Kurt Wagner.

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