Apr 29 2014, 3:09pm CDT | by Forbes
Banned for life.
Forced to sell his franchise.
Commissioner Adam Silver did not mince words. He has exiled Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, after being caught on tape making racist comments to his girlfriend. In doing so Silver wielded a sledgehammer that shattered Sterling’s supposed privileged world and enabled the NBA to move positively away from the repugnant behavior of one of its aberrant owners.
Will the rest of the league, that is, the other 29 owners back Silver’s recommendation? That remains to be seen but Silver exerted his authority fully, properly and commendably. He stood tall the way that perhaps his predecessor, David Stern, who essentially built the league into multi-billion dollar global business did not. Stern never acted against Sterling when previous racially-charged lawsuits arose. One lawsuit involving Elgin Baylor, a long-time general manager of the Clippers, was dismissed; the other resulted in Sterling paying a $3 million for housing discrimination.
Silver has only been in the job as commissioner for a matter of months although he worked side-by-side Stern as a chief deputy for years previously. His bold action serves as a lesson for any senior leader, especially one coming into a new role. Had Silver wavered or waffled, his future as leader would have been tainted. He would have been viewed as a protector for ownership, or even an apologist for bad behavior.
Silver is savvy enough to realize this and so he did what good leaders do. Act decisively. He did not spin the issue; he faced it directly. And in doing so he provided something that all leaders need to do for their followers. Inspiration. He showed what you can do when you have authority. By not ducking, by not hiding behind PR flacks, Silver showed what leadership is all about. Doing what’s right.
There also is a silver lining – yes, bad pun intended – in this action. Silver gains the respect of the players in the league, the majority of whom are African American. He stood with them in their hurt and anger against Sterling’s racist rant. And this is only fair because there will be a time when Silver must discipline a player for actions detrimental to team and the league. Had he not levied the maximum penalty he could met against Sterling his credibility among players would have been suspect.
Additionally Silver protected the NBA against what could have been a tidal wave of sponsorship defections. Already some sponsored cancelled their sponsorship with the Clippers. Had Silver been indecisive, many more sponsors could have walked. And that would have affected the bottom line.
Professional sports are about two things: winning and money. Take your pick. While we like to talk about character in sports, in the pro game character is more an afterthought. Yes there are rules of the game governing on and off the court behavior but ultimately it’s the bottom line that talks loudest. Wining and money.
And so Adam Silver’s strong stand against the racist behavior of an owner speaks volumes about his integrity and his leadership. And so the next time he opens his mouth on this issue – or any other – people will want to listen. Silver is a man of character.
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