Adam Silver faced his first major decision as commissioner of the National Basketball Association in the troubling case of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. For the good of the game — and race relations in his league and beyond — Silver did the right thing.
Sterling got just what he deserved for a racist diatribe captured on audiotape — a lifetime ban from the NBA, a $2.5 million fine and a strong suggestion that he sell the team. The proceeds from the fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance.
The longtime team owner was immediately barred from attending any NBA games or practices. He cannot be on-site at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team. In addition, Silver believes there are enough votes among owners to force Sterling to sell the team.
The ban stemmed from comments Sterling made over the phone to a girlfriend about photos of her with African-American basketball players. He berated her for being seen with them and for posting the photographs on Instagram. An audio recording of the racist rant was released publicly last weekend by TMZ and Deadspin.
Silver expressed outrage over the comments, as did Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who serves as chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors.
In a radio interview Tuesday, Taylor said NBA owners were hurt by Sterling’s comments because they are so “inconsistent” with the behavior of the league. That’s why, he continued, serious action needed to be taken to assure that such conduct is not condoned.
The NBA was not alone in condemning Sterling over the recording. Several sponsors either terminated or suspended their business dealings with the team on Monday, though individual deals with players were not affected.
This is not the first time the Clippers owner has been caught up in controversy. He previously faced charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings and made racist statements in sworn testimony.
Some on social media argued that Sterling’s penalty went too far because saying something offensive is not illegal. Freedom of speech, they argued, allows speech that is reprehensible — and even racist.
But the difference here is that NBA owners are part of a private group that can set its own rules. Silver and team owners have sent a strong and important message to the general public and to those who care about professional sports. Racism has no place in the game — even if the source is a billionaire owner.