MIAMI — It was on-point, unequivocal and forceful when LeBron James first declared, “There is no place for Donald Sterling in our league.” Tuesday, in a resounding and righteous exercise of power, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, in effect, “I agree.”
The Silver hammer pounded Sterling with maximum justice, and did it swiftly, and it was musical to the ears. It made you want to cheer, because it felt like the sport’s new boss got this one just right.
Good for the commissioner.
Good for basketball, moving with such speed to eradicate Sterling and his repugnant, racist views.
Silver revealed at a New York news conference Tuesday that Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner, effective immediately, was banned for life from any association with the club or league and also fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowed.
Silver also said he would exercise his broad powers to seek the three-quarters vote of the 30 owners needed to force Sterling to sell the team, and would “do everything in my power to ensure that happens.”
This was an extraordinary display of discretionary authority, tantamount to a death sentence. He could have done less. The commissioner could have meted out an indefinite suspension, a lesser fine and left open a possibility of Sterling’s continued ownership.
Instead, Silver left no doubt that the NBA — a league that prides itself on diversity and inclusion — had no room in its hierarchy for an owner who, on an audiotape, displayed such racist views of African Americans who happen to comprise about 70 percent of the league’s players.
(People such as Sterling, in their prejudice against “minorities,” seem oblivious to the notion their views make them the ultimate minority).
The thing is, Sterling’s views would be just as bad if he were an owner in baseball, or hockey, or if he were the president of a network, or a newspaper, or any company. This issue wasn’t just black and white. This was right and wrong. No doubt black players and others of color heard Sterling’s comments more viscerally, the outrageous disrespect feeling more personal. But most whites were shocked, too, and shaking their heads that such raw prejudice still exists in 2014 — not just on the far fringe of extremists and the white-sheet crowd, but in boardrooms and executive suites.
“My response was as a human being,” said Silver, on point. He called Sterling’s views “hateful” and “deeply offensive and hurtful.” He referred to “my personal outrage.”
The maximum justice, though, also showed an understanding by Silver that African Americans — his players — were more entitled to be more outraged, and that this was a full-fledged crisis for his league. In that sense Silver’s verdict was more than fair. It was pragmatic. It was a commissioner not only doing what was right, but also protecting the brand, putting out a fire that he knew would rage and might soon be uncontrollable.
Silver did what angry players demanded of him. He understood this was a matter of conscience and principle with many players, something expressed when Clippers players turned their warmup jerseys backward before Saturdays night’s game, and when Heat players showed support. Outrage against Sterling was universal. When even Michael Jordan speaks up, you know the cause is big.
This would have mushroomed had Silver not acted fast to erase Sterling. This would not have gone away. There would have been protests, petitions. There might even have been a mutiny by players, a refusal to go on under this man’s ownership.
The Clippers, finally good after years of haplessness, would have been effectively crippled for as long as Sterling continued to run the club. Now, the lifetime ban, huge fine and move to force him to sell at least give the franchise a chance to return to normalcy.
“I believe the players will be satisfied,” Silver said of his actions.
Had those actions been weaker — or if the owners now fail to take the final step of forcing Sterling to sell — they might have been at risk of losing respected coach Doc Rivers, or of having star players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin looking for a way out.
The repercussion would be enormous for as long as Sterling remained the unfortunate face of the franchise.
Financial fallout already has been seen in major sponsors dropping the Clippers.
What college star would want to be drafted by Sterling’s team?
Would Clippers fans boycott?
Oh, and what self-respecting free agent would consider playing for Sterling?
The Clippers might have been considered a leading possible landing spot for LeBron this summer if he chose to exercise his free agency and leave Miami. Now, as long as Sterling owns the team that possibility is zero — but only because there isn’t a number lower.
Silver’s actions Tuesday and move to force an ownership change helps erase the Sterling stink and stigma, and give the Clippers a chance for a level court again.
NBA players were feeling Tuesday like they all won a championship or something. In a way, they had. They had a new champion in Adam Silver.
“Commissioner Silver thank you for protecting our beautiful and powerful league!!” Tweeted LeBron.
This ugly controversy won’t now magically disappear. There might be legal challenges. A vote of owners is still to come.
Silver’s swift hammer put this mess in its place, though.
We are in the midst of a particularly competitive, exciting NBA postseason, and arenas are jam-packed with fans appreciative of great skill and effort — fans cheering for or against based on the color of uniforms, not skin.
And there outside the arena, literally and figuratively, is Donald Sterling, a bigot alone, an old man watching the league — and the world — move on without him.