Adam Silver Imposing Unprecedented Lifetime Ban Sends Powerful Message

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adma_silver_sterlingAdam Silver walked up to the podium in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, wasting no time to deliver a maximum penalty, and dropped the hammer on Clippers owner Donald Sterling. If there’s anything the NBA can look toward with a glimmer of hope, it’s that Silver’s strong and uncompromising stand in taking swift and appropriate action against Sterling’s hateful, bigoted views sent a powerful message.

To put that in perspective: He took a zero-tolerance approach to racism and discrimination of any kind, and Sterling got maybe just what he deserved by getting thrown out of the league for life. It is seemingly easy to applaud Silver’s decision to hit Sterling with a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine. At long last, Sterling isn’t getting away with his comments that were repulsive, insensitive and saturated with bigotry. Silver, who succeeded David Stern after his predecessor’s 30-year tenure, took down an owner who had a long history of racist behavior. He met his first major challenge of his short tenure as NBA commissioner in a successful way.

“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”

If there’s something to like about Silver, it’s that he’s not afraid to back down from a fight, not afraid to bring out the sledgehammer and stand tall. Everyone, including NBA owners, overwhelmingly poured out support for the commissioner, who took decisive and strong disciplinary actions against Sterling for his blatantly racist comments that were disturbing and offensive. The evolution of pro basketball as a diverse, well-respected league is an outgrowth of Silver’s unprecedented sanctions against Sterling in the best interest of the league to protect its brand and eradicate any form of racial prejudice and discrimination in the NBA.

And, yes, as the new sheriff in town, he is much more proactive, he is viewed as having a powerful voice and showed everyone that he can do the right thing. Once he delivered the message fans, owners, coaches and players wanted to hear, Silver showed the nation that he is capable of being a leader. We truly want to believe that the specter of racism still doesn’t haunt U.S. sports, especially when roughly 70 percent of NBA players are black, but racism is still heavy in sports. And finally, as people wholeheartedly support the decision by the commissioner, Sterling can take his racist views someplace else. He is — at long last — essentially exiled from the league, and Silver will now do whatever it takes to force Sterling to sell the team, since he hasn’t been officially stripped of ownership of the Clippers. Silver’s powerful decision, however, will be remembered as a landmark moment in sports history. Sterling’s bigoted comments reminded us that racism and inequality have an effect on sports.

The good thing, though, Silver has more power than Sterling that we as viewers have never seen from Stern. He acted as a judge; the defendant lost his case — and appropriately and very belatedly, Sterling has been rightly ousted from the league. The very people who have questioned Stern’s leadership, wondering whether he was fit to be an NBA commissioner, ignoring Sterling’s deplorable behavior when the warning signs of racism go back more than a decade, are the same folks who praise Silver for moving quickly and forcefully in the wake of Sterling’s private recording of an argument with his girlfriend. From the very start of his press conference, Silver confirmed that it was, in fact, Sterling’s voice on the tape and right away announced he had banned Sterling for life. Only a short while later, he called the racist owner’s views “deeply offensive and harmful.”

This is just the beginning to Sterling’s saga following his grotesque comments in which the billionaire mogul will drag the league into a long court battle. Knowing him, he’s not going to go down without a fight, he will be reluctant to sell his team and will not go away for good. More impressively, the new commissioner just arrived three months ago, and early in his tenure, he’s already speaking with confidence and knew exactly what he was doing when he imposed the harshest penalty in the history of U.S. sports. He, almost unanimously, has the “full support” of the owners, and people from around the league took to social media with comments reinforcing it. Silver knew he had to take action against Sterling, or there was going to be a mutiny. Roger Mason Jr., the Vice President of NBA Players Association, said players were prepared to boycott all playoff games on Tuesday.

“It could have been ugly,” said an NBA official. “Adam absolutely did the right thing. But there was no way the players would have settled for anything less.”

It’s Stern’s fault, it’s the league’s fault for allowing Sterling’s egregious behavior to reflect poorly on the league. The fact of the matter is, he should have been stopped much sooner. The fact of the matter is, he should have been locked out of the Clippers’ front office and locker room, when the Justice Department slapped Sterling with housing discrimination lawsuit for allegedly refusing to rent to black and Hispanic tenants in Los Angeles. It seemed that the league would have responded when Elgin Baylor, an ex-Clippers general manager, accused Sterling of operating a plantation-style franchise. He and his estranged wife, Rochelle, agreed to pay a record settlement of $2.725 in 2009. If you’re trying to find any information about Sterling, Google his name and there you will see links appear about a racist. It’d be nice if the NBA could force him to sell the team today, but it doesn’t have the manpower or the subpoena power, although Silver had enough power to ban him for life. The league ignored Sterling’s racist views when it could have been handled years ago.

Silver, if nothing else, will always be credited for banishing Sterling, having the authority to give him a lifetime ban. It’s now up to the owners to strip him of his team, if the owners agree to vote him out of the NBA. But as we know Sterling, who is looking to fight the NBA, doesn’t mind showing up for court. When he moved the Clippers to Los Angeles without league approval in 1984, Stern levied Sterling a $25 million fine. Of course, Sterling filed a lawsuit against the league for $100, but the fine was reduced to $6 million and Sterling dropped the suit. The commissioner knows who he is dealing with and knows all about Sterling. He’s all about greed and having the last word. If not careful, Sterling can come after Silver and the fight will get ugly. Right now, the NBA will move swiftly and force Sterling to hand over the team to someone else. There are already a bevy of suitors interested in buying the franchise, with Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Larry Ellison among the potential candidates to bid. If Sterling’s wife files for divorce, she could take over the team. She said she has no intention of selling the team.

This is far from over, and Silver and NBA powers still have a long way to go before he’s removed as Clippers owner.

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