(Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com)
David Stern spent 30 years as the NBA Commissioner. He presided over a number of different controversies: “rigged” draft lotteries, questionable playoff suspensions, the implementation of a dress code, his own involvement within an ownership change, vetoing blockbuster trades and of course, two lockout-shortened seasons.
Adam Silver has spent 88 days as the new NBA Commissioner. He arguably just dealt with a situation that trumps all that Stern experienced.
Last Friday, TMZ released a story that featured audio from longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and Sterling’s girlfriend V. Stiviano. The audio, which was obtained by Stiviano unbeknownst to Sterling, quickly made headlines across every news and sports media outlet due to its troubling content. While those following the story surely have heard a clip or two from the tape, here are a couple quotes exemplifying Sterling’s indiscretion:
(Both quotes are from Sterling directed towards Stiviano)
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
“You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that (Instagram)…and not to bring them to my games.”
These quotes, while equal parts alarming and awful, are not surprising. Donald Sterling has a lengthy history of racism, discrimination, and harassment.
In 2009, former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor filed a lawsuit against Sterling for his own wrongful termination and for discrimination on the basis of age and race. The suit featured a number of comments from Baylor that foreshadowed Sterling’s now publicly known beliefs. Baylor claimed that during contract negotiations with Danny Manning, who was the first overall pick by the Clippers in the 1988 NBA Draft, Sterling told Mannings’ agent, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor white kid.” During the same lawsuit, Baylor also said that Sterling envisioned a ‘Southern Plantation type structure’ for his Clippers team, which meant Sterling wanted a team composed of ‘Poor Black Boys from the South and a White head coach.’ Despite this testimony, Baylor eventually dropped his race accusation and a jury ruled in favor of Sterling in March 2011.
Even though Baylor’s lawsuit wasn’t successful, there was other evidence that was piling up to aide Baylor’s accusations. In 2009, Sterling was forced to pay a record $2.725 million as a result of a discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed that Sterling had discriminated against African Americans, Hispanics, and families with children across the residential properties he owns in Los Angeles.
The list of reasons why Sterling was ill suited to be in a position of power within the NBA was continuing to grow. In 2011, Sterling refused to cover a Clippers assistant coach’s prostate cancer treatment. In the same year, Sterling celebrated “Black History Month” in the wrong month. In the early 2000’s a number of female Clippers employees came forward with sexual harassment lawsuits. Frankly, after reading through the extensive history of Sterling’s consistently poor behavior, I find myself wondering: How did he last as long as he did as the owner of professional sports team?
While that doubt certainly has been discussed throughout the media the past week, it didn’t make Adam Silver’s decision any easier.
The day after the tape was released, I was a little worried. Saturday afternoon, Silver held a press conference to discuss the situation at hand. Within the presser, Silver explained that the NBA was conducting an investigation of what took place, but that the NBA would not levy any sanctions against Sterling quite yet. Silver also entirely sidestepped a question that asked for his thoughts regarding LeBron James’ statement that there was “No room for Donald Sterling in the NBA.” At that point, it looked like Silver and the NBA was failing to acknowledge the severity of Sterling’s comments.
On Monday night, the NBA announced that it had reached a decision regarding Sterling, and that Silver would hold a press conference the following day at 2 PM. As the press conference drew closer, media speculation picked up as to what Sterling’s punishment might be. Minutes before Silver took the podium, TMZ reported that Sterling was to be suspended indefinitely and fined $5 million. Soon several outlets, including NBC News, cited the same sources. My reaction to that report was mixed. On one hand, being suspended indefinitely is different from being kicked out of the league. Likewise, $5 million is an unprecedented fine for an NBA owner, but how much of a dent does that truly make in Sterling’s total wealth? Thankfully, Adam Silver quickly set those doubts aside once he took the podium.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver said. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage, and my personal outrage.”
After personally apologizing to fans, coaches, players, partners of the NBA, and a few African American “pioneers” of the NBA, Silver shared his decision regarding punishment for Sterling.
“Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA,” Silver said.
At that point, I instantly became a fan of Adam Silver. Not knowing anything about the man prior to his ascension to NBA commissioner, I knew all I needed to know in order to like him after this press conference. From my eyes, Silver was genuinely upset, angry, and apologetic for what happened. It’s not hard to see Silver’s passion for the league, but his passion for the men that comprise the league is also readily apparent. The rest of his press conference exemplified more of the same. Silver went on to share that Sterling would also be fined $2.5 million, which was the maximum fine enabled by the NBA constitution.
The last bit of news I found interesting came during the press conference’s question and answer session. Jason Page, a reporter from NBC Sports Radio, asked Silver, “If you don’t get the three-quarter vote that you need, is it possible that Donald Sterling can still be an absentee owner profiting from this team even though he’s banned physically from the team?” Silver’s answer was succinct and direct.
“I fully expect to get the support I need to get from the other owners to remove him.”
In his first act as commissioner, Adam Silver wasted little time asserting himself as a man that was not to be crossed. I love the fact that he did not wait for the other owner’s approval. Silver saw Sterling’s actions much like LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant did. Silver saw a man that threatened the integrity of the league, and he had no patience or tolerance for that.
About a day prior to Silver’s decision, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explained his hesitance in having Sterling kicked out of the league. While he wholeheartedly acknowledged that Sterling’s comments and behavior were “abhorrent,” he believed that removing Sterling from the league could be troublesome.
“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do,” Cuban said. “It’s a very, very slippery slope.”
Though I can see where Cuban is coming from, I don’t agree with his sentiment. I believe Silver’s decision sets a great precedent within the NBA. Owners should be held to a high standard. Regardless of how or when the audiotape was collected, Sterling was caught verbalizing his appalling beliefs. After years of getting away with it, he finally received just punishment. And the NBA will be better for it.