SAN ANTONIO – Adam Silver wasn’t ready to, er, dunk the basketball – it wouldn’t do for the NBA commissioner to be spiking the football under any circumstances – but he stood before a media throng Sunday calm and confident that the Donald Sterling/racist comments fiasco soon would be over.
Six weeks and one day earlier, Silver had faced the first serious challenge of his rookie year as commissioner – Sterling’s offensive remarks had blown up on April 26 and Silver held two news conferences in rapid succession: the first an impromptu session in Memphis for damage control and awareness, the second just three days later to announce the sanctions against Sterling and his eventual banishment from the league.
Fast-forward to Sunday: The Clippers are being sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a jaw-dropping $2 billion (nearly quadruple the largest franchise price in NBA history) and Shelly Sterling, Donald’s wife, has indemnified the league against any lawsuit brought by her husband, which of course he has.
As Silver fielded questions before Game 2 of The Finals, he or any of his constituencies – the owners, the players, even the fans – hardly could have hoped for a swifter, more satisfying outcome.
Though, to be completely accurate and cautious, the deal and the departure of Sterling as embarrassment and antagonist is at the rim, not quite through the net (see, can’t use goal line imagery either).
“We’re almost there,” Silver said. “There is this last piece, and that is the lawsuit that Donald brought against the league and me personally.”
That’s where the indemnification part comes in. “In essence,” Silver said, “Donald is suing himself and he knows that. While I understand he is frustrated, I think it’s over. It’s just a matter of time now and then we will move on to better topics and back to The Finals.”
The topics Silver had to deal with Sunday mostly alternated between Sterling updates and more info on the loss of air conditioning at Game 1 of Miami-San Antonio series Thursday at the AT&T Center.
Regarding the Sterlings, Silver shot down reports that Shelly Sterling might have some sort of ongoing role with the Clippers after Ballmer’s purchase is complete. She would dedicate some of the proceeds of the sale to a charitable foundation over which she would preside, but “that’s her money,” Silver said. It won’t be affiliated with the basketball team.
Silver said the other penalties against Sterling – his ban from even attending NBA games and a $2.5 million fine – definitely remain in place. He said he spoke to the disgraced Clippers owner in a phone call soon after the sanctions were announced April 29 and described Sterling as “distraught” and “not remorseful.”
As for Sterling’s professional history – he had been charged with racially discriminatory practices more than a decade ago in housing disputes and in his dealings with former Clippers GM Elgin Baylor – Silver was non-committal on the NBA failing to act in those instances. He said the league monitored the civil cases brought against Sterling, the investigations by the Department of Housing and Department of Justice and the eventual settlements (without admission of guilt) or, in the Baylor case, no judgment against the billionaire.
“It’s a fair point that in hindsight possibly we should have done more,” Silver said. “Certainly if I had to do it again, maybe we would have done more. But our eyes are open going forward.”
Regarding the extreme heat of Game 1 once the cooling system malfunctioned – and the cramps that sent LeBron James from the game in the final minutes, seemingly sealing Miami’s loss – Silver acknowledged it as “not one of my prouder moments in my short tenure as commissioner.”
But he was at the game, too, and felt that he and Rod Thorn, the league’s head of basketball operations, had the best available info from the AT&T Center maintenance crew. “There was never a point where we were considering either postponing or cancelling the game,” Silver said.
He added: “I’m glad this isn’t single elimination; it’s the best of seven. So it’s too early to say how this Finals will be remembered.”