In My Opinion

Fowler: In protecting NBA’s image from Donald Sterling, Adam Silver improved his own

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comApril 29, 2014 

Bravo, Adam Silver.

The new NBA commissioner drew gasps of surprise Tuesday when he announced his penalty for L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling: not only a $2.5 million fine, but a lifetime ban from NBA activities.

It also seems certain Silver has already lined up the votes he will need to eventually force Sterling to sell the Clippers and remove him from the league permanently.

What Silver did was a great lesson in crisis management. He made a bold decision, expanding his broad powers as commissioner to right an obvious wrong.

Then, instead of hiding behind legalese, Silver answered questions succinctly and directly at a news conference. Sterling has a whole lot of money, and all of this may well end up in court. But Silver acted very quickly – the penalties were announced only three days after the scandal broke. More importantly, he did the right thing and in doing so may have averted a player boycott.

To review: Sterling made some very racist comments in a recorded phone call that was later leaked to the media. Among other things, he asked his biracial girlfriend not to bring any black friends to his games and criticized her for taking a picture with basketball legend Magic Johnson and posting it online. Silver said Sterling confirmed the voice on the recording was his and did not express any remorse directly to the commissioner about his remarks.

It was more than embarrassing. It was shameful. And in a league where the majority of players are African-American, it was also downright idiotic.

Not only did everyone in the basketball world from Michael Jordan to LeBron James condemn the comments – Jordan, the Charlotte Bobcats’ owner, said he was “completely disgusted” and called Sterling’s remarks “sickening” – the story also bounced into the political arena and drew the ire of President Barack Obama.

This was all very bad for the NBA brand. A league that has several great playoff series going on right now was seeing them overshadowed by an owner who has been dogged by racial controversies before.

And so Silver acted. His predecessor, David Stern, tolerated Sterling for years (although, to be fair, Stern apparently never had this sort of smoking gun).

Now Silver is going to get rid of this ignorant old man, this blight on the NBA and on America, in a matter of months. Jordan was one of the many who cheered the work of Silver, a 1984 Duke graduate.

“I applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift and decisive response today,” Jordan said in a statement. “He sent a powerful message that there can be zero tolerance for racism and hatred in the NBA.”

The $2.5 million fine – the maximum Silver said he could penalize Sterling under the NBA constitution – is mostly symbolic. Sterling’s reported worth is about $2 billion, and he will have even more once he sells the team.

Now maybe what Sterling did doesn’t sound like enough for him to be banned from the NBA. The owner obviously thought this was a private conversation that ended up being first leaked by TMZ. It is doubtful any of us would want all of our own conversations broadcast to a national audience.

But Sterling damaged an entire sport, and I’m very glad that sport is going to get rid of him.

Bigots have no place in society. Sterling is an 80-year-old man. He is probably not going to be reformed at this point.

The next best thing is to send him far, far away from the NBA, into whatever rich-guy exile he chooses for himself and whatever girlfriend is stupid enough to end up with him next.

That’s exactly what Silver has done. Sterling may not go quietly. But rest assured, he’s gone. Sterling’s reputation will be forever tarnished after this. But Silver just turned golden.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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