It’s game night at Madison Square Garden, a few hours before the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs are set to tip-off an early season rumble. Doors haven’t opened yet, and the World’s Most Famous Arena is eerily empty. Down on the court, the evening’s anthem singer warbles her way through a sound check as two janitors polish the floors with massive mops. The teams themselves likely haven’t even arrived at the stadium for warm-ups.
But tonight’s two most powerful attendees are already in the building. Seated side-by-side in a lavish midcourt suite are NBA commissioner Adam Silver and François Thiébaud, president of Swiss watchmakers Tissot.
Physically and temperamentally, the duo couldn’t be more disparate. Silver is lanky, bald and bespectacled, known for his contemplative, analytical nature and concise communication. Thiébaud, meanwhile, is stout of stature with a wave of billowy gray hair and a Tissot watch prominently protruding from both wrists; when he hears I’m from Canada, he immediately launches into a winding anecdote about a fishing trip in rural Quebec.
But for all their incongruities, Silver and Thiébaud are now closer than ever: they’re here tonight to celebrate Tissot’s newly announced role as the NBA’s first official timekeeper.
“This is more than a partnership,” Thiébaud puts it poetically—in his melodious French accent—as Silver looks on smiling. “It’s the beginning of a new sporting love story: the NBA and Tissot.”
Romantic overtones aside, the six-year deal should have major upside for both parties. Tissot’s renowned R&D team—which has already developed timekeeping systems for an array of pro sports including MotoGP racing and 6 Nations rugby—is expected to completely overhaul the league’s shot clock displays in time for next season, streamlining them visually and improving their precision.
“That’s ultimately what the game is,” Silver explains. “It’s a series of moments, measured in seconds and tenths of seconds. One of the things I’m most excited about is the prospect of our new precision timing system. We’ve talked a lot about technology and the new things we can do both to ensure the integrity of the game and to give fans watching the game the ability to see those increments measured accurately, whether it’s in the arena or on whichever device they’re using.”
For Tissot, having its logo prominently displayed in all 30 NBA arenas and the capacity to create officially licensed watches should significantly heighten awareness of the Swiss innovators in the North American market. The brand has already launched special versions of their Quickster watch decked out in the colours of five teams—the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, the Knicks and the Spurs, whose point guard Tony Parker has been a Tissot brand ambassador since 2011.
“It’s such a beautiful sport,” Thiébaud offers when asked what originally drew him to the deal. “There’s such a beautiful fighting spirit—individually and as a team—and that’s something we need to have as human beings. You get only one life, and it’s short. And you need that positive spirit from colleagues, from friends, from within yourself, to boost your life.”
“I didn’t know a philosophy lesson would come with the partnership,” Silver follows up, laughing. “But I think there’s an amazing opportunity here for our players, as well. Players love being icons of fashion—as much as they love to compete on the court, they like to compete from a style standpoint as well. I’m sure you’ll be seeing plenty of them sporting Tissot throughout the league.”
The Knicks wound up losing to the Spurs 94-84 that night, and the rowdy New York crowd went home disappointed. But at this early juncture in their relationship, Tissot and the NBA’s team-up seems like a major win on all fronts.
“We just signed for six years,” Thiébaud says with a wink, “but in my mind, I expect this partnership to last 60 years—or 600 years.”