NOT ONLY does NBA commissioner Adam Silver see the writing on the wall, he understands the inevitability of it.

It's safe to assume that Silver wishes there were no betting on NBA games, or any other sports' games for that matter. He recognizes that is a fantasy.

So while the commissioners of Major League Baseball, the NFL and NHL keep trying to bury their heads in the sand about gambling on professional sports, Silver has spoken honestly in saying his league should accept that people will bet on sports and should support its legalization.

In November, Silver, who is in his first year as commissioner, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying the United States needed a new approach to sports betting.

Silver said that though the NBA joined other sports leagues in opposing the expansion of legalized betting, the fact is that the activity thrives as an "underground business that operates free from regulation and oversight."

Silver called for Congress to revisit the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibits states from authorizing sports betting.

He said that with times changing, Congress should create a federal framework to allow states to authorize betting on pro sports.

Yesterday, during a conversation aired on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," Silver said he has spoken to his fellow commissioners about the topic.

"I have talked to the commissioners in the other leagues [about legalizing sports betting]," he said in an interview with ESPN The Magazine. "I leave it to them to make any public statements they want to make on it.

"I will say that certainly all of them are interested in having a better understanding of the issue and, I know, have assigned people in their organizations to study intensively the issue, as well."

I will not try to say I have a handle on the all of the complexity and nuances involved with legalized sports betting.

I will not debate the moral issues involved.

What I do know is that whether it is legalized or whether it stays primarily as a shadow industry, people will wager on sporting events.

The only debate is whether it is better that things remain as they are or that government creates some kind of standard of regulation for a multibillion-dollar industry.

It is ludicrous for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to say, as he did in an interview with CNN, "I think there needs some attention to be paid to what sports is going to represent to young people.

"Should it be viewed in the competitive team-oriented sense that it is now, or does it become a vehicle for betting, which may in effect change the atmosphere in the stadiums and in the arenas?"

That might be a fine argument if this had not been settled decades ago. Sports are competitive, team-oriented things that became vehicles for betting a long time ago.

Despite the fact that wagers on games can be made only in Nevada, and on parlay cards for the NFL in Delaware, point spreads for virtually every sporting event are run in newspapers across the country.

Few guys flew from Philly to Las Vegas yesterday to put money down on the Sixers' game against the Denver Nuggets last night. Still, we know a lot of money passed hands after the outcome.

Just as state after state has found ways to get in on the casino business that was once exclusive to Nevada and Atlantic City, states will keep pushing to get in on the billions of dollars in revenue being lost to illegal sports betting.

New Jersey lawmakers passed a sports-betting law last year, only to have it struck down by the courts, a decision being appealed. Delaware's plan in 2009 to expand its sports betting to include single games also was turned aside.

Lawmakers in Indiana, New York and South Carolina introduced bills to legalize sports betting.

Two New Jersey congressmen, Frank LoBiondo and Frank Pallone, introduced bills to amend the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, recently said he thinks Congress should hold hearings on legalizing sports betting.

Ultimately, too many people for too different reasons want legalized sports betting to happen for it not to happen.

Silver has taken a realistic approach by saying we should stop closing our eyes to what is right in front of us and deal with it in a practical way.

"There should be federal legislation on the issue, in part to avoid what is happening now," Silver said. "My greatest concern is that there will be, in essence, a hodgepodge of regulations on controlling sports betting that will vary from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and will make it increasingly difficult to monitor betting on our own sport."

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood