Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 30, 2014

ZACK KLEMME: Silver’s swift action contrasts from Stern’s style

ASHLAND — Less than three months into his tenure as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver has done what David Stern could not or would not do in three decades in that position.

He held Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to account for expressing “deeply offensive and hurtful,” “intolerant” views.

Silver banned Sterling for life from any association with the league and fined him $2.5 million on Tuesday after an audio recording recently emerged of Sterling allegedly making racist comments.

The lingering, unsatisfied question is, why, exactly, did it take so long?

The stark finality and harshness of the measures — making no comment on whether or not they are just — appear even greater considering Sterling has been linked multiple times dating back to at least 1983 with racially motivated comments and behavior, and until Tuesday had never been so much as publicly reprimanded by the NBA.

The remarks on the recording, made to Sterling’s girlfriend and obtained by TMZ, continued a disturbing, distasteful pattern Stern’s NBA made no move to check or correct.

The recording — and its fallout — did what three previous high-profile lawsuits alleging racist behavior and remarks could not: draw NBA disciplinary action against Sterling.

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” Sterling allegedly said in the recording. “You can sleep with (them). You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on (social media) … and not to bring them to my games.”

Silver said Sterling confirmed during the NBA’s investigation the voice on the audio recording is his.

So the commissioner cast himself as judge, jury and executioner. What remained to be seen was if he could make his punishment stick.

After all, being a repugnant curmudgeon is not illegal. And racism is easy to allege and difficult to prove, although Sterling has provided plenty of glimpses of who he is.

But the prevailing question of whether or not Silver — who as commissioner essentially works for the NBA’s owners — could ban one of them and force him to sell his team was answered later Tuesday when the NBA’s constitution and bylaws, which had been confidential, were released online.

Article 24(l) authorizes the commissioner to penalize NBA personnel in whatever manner he sees fit ”in the best interests of the association” on matters that include no specific given penalty.

For Silver, that meant forcing Sterling to sell the franchise, which would require backing from three-fourths of the NBA’s owners.

"I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners I need to remove him," Silver said.

Stern, who handed over control to Silver in February, presided over the resurgence of the NBA into a sport with mainstream popularity. But, though not above occasional meddling that seemed more intentioned to assert himself and protect the brand than anything else, he did little in terms of discipline toward the end of his tenure.

It should be noted Sterling was not legally found at fault in any of the three aforementioned lawsuits. He settled the first two to the tune of nearly $8 million, and a jury ruled in his favor in the third.

Silver cited that when asked at Tuesday’s press conference why the NBA had not taken action against Sterling before.

In so doing, he danced around the question of why the NBA could not still have punished Sterling years ago for the comments he made, and which were backed by sworn testimony, no matter what the legal system did.

That begs the question, is stronger action being taken now that the Clippers are actually relevant?

Los Angeles is embroiled in a tight first-round playoff series against rival Golden State. “Lob City,” with such players as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, is gaining popularity and recognizance by the season.

It’s one thing when it’s just some guy making off-handed comments. But when the culprit is the owner of one of the most exciting teams in the league, the media focus is intensified.

The presence of an actual audio recording the public could access further forced the issue.

Whatever the reasoning, the result was the harshest penalties the NBA has dealt one person in its history and the first lifetime ban any major American professional sports owner has gotten since George Steinbrenner was banned from the Yankees in 1990 (before he was given his franchise back in 1993).

And in so doing, Silver bypassed his predecessor’s precedent and set his own — one no one could possibly miss.

“I am extremely proud of this great league’s diverse, respectful and inclusive culture, and we will not allow one individual’s intolerant views to define us,” he said in a statement released Tuesday. “Let me be clear: Mr. Sterling’s views have no place in the NBA.”

Better late than never.

ZACK KLEMME can be reached at zklemme@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2658.

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