By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com
NEW YORK – On Saturday morning, barely three months into his nascent tenure as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver was faced with a nightmare scenario. Approximately 72 hours later, at a tense press conference in midtown Manhattan, Silver responded as strongly as possible by announcing a lifetime ban against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
In addition to the ban, Silver announced a fine of $2.5 million, which will be donated to organizations devoted to tolerance and anti-discrimination. “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said. “They have simply no place in the NBA.”
Sterling, the NBA’s longest-tenured owner, was found to have made racist remarks in a recording made public last weekend by TMZ.com. A statement from Sterling, through the Clippers, challenged the authenticity of the tapes and the motives of the woman purportedly responsible for the tapes being released. At the very least, though, Sterling had a history involving issues of race, including settling a 2009 housing discrimination lawsuit.
The news broke Saturday morning. The NBA promised to investigate the tapes before making any decisions, which led to the 72-hour delay between the news breaking and Silver’s announcement.
In that time between, the story became nothing short of pervasive. Everyone from Sterling’s fellow owners to current and former NBA players to President Obama denounced Sterling. Clippers players made a statement prior to Game 4 on Sunday by wearing their team-issued warm-ups inside out. Other teams, including the Heat and Trail Blazers, have worn black socks as a show of solidarity with the Clippers players and coaches.
The Sterling story has undermined and at times overshadowed one of the most exciting starts to the NBA playoffs ever. It culminated today with an extraordinary press conference where questions came from outlets as diverse as the New York Times to “Inside Edition.” The packed room was silent in the build up to the announcement, and Silver’s late arrival mostly served to allow the tension to swell.
After announcing the ban, Silver explained how he came to the decision. Upon hearing the news Saturday morning, the NBA assigned David Anders from the law firm Wachtell Lipton to investigate the allegations. Anders spoke to several of the principles involved and determined that the voice on the tape did belong to Sterling. He concluded his investigation late Monday night.
In the meantime, Silver spoke to various league personnel, including some of those unwittingly swept up in the story, such as Clippers coach Doc Rivers and point guard Chris Paul.
As David Aldridge explained earlier, there was some doubt about how strong Silver’s reaction could be, given the limitations of the NBA’s constitution and bylaws. Silver seemed resolute that the punishment meted out was fully within the NBA’s rights: “We have the authority to react as I recommended.”
When asked why Sterling’s previous incidents involving racial issues never generated any punishments from the league, Silver explained that the NBA didn’t react with a fine or suspension because there were never any official findings of guilt. “I can’t speak to past actions except to say when specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted,” Silver said.
In the face of the lifetime ban, will Sterling be willing to sell the team? “I have no idea,” Silver said. He later added, “I fully expect to get the necessary support to remove [Sterling].”
“This will take some time,” Silver said, “and appropriate healing will be necessary.”
Three days in, Silver and the NBA responded in the strongest terms possible. Yet it’s worth remembering that with the possibility of legal wrangling ahead, this episode may not end anytime soon. For now, at least, Silver has had his say.