The NBA owners stepped up


I was truly surprised -- very pleasantly so -- by the bold nature of Adam Silver's decision to ban Donald Sterling. I did not believe the rest of the NBA owners would be willing to oust one of their own, but it seems I was wrong.

There are several heroes in the epic tale of the vanquishing of Donald Sterling, the evil monster that terrorized Los Angeles Clippers fans for three decades. Adam Silver is the most visible and most obvious -- his courage and conviction in standing up for what was right, in spite of the ramifications, cannot be overstated. In his first challenge as the Commissioner, after less than three months on the job, Silver didn't simply do well -- he excelled. He acted quickly, decisively and boldly, blowing away not only my expectations, but everyone's expectations.

Doc Rivers too has been a stalwart of Homeric proportions. The last thing he wanted during a tightly contested playoff series was to become the spokesperson for racial tolerance, in open opposition to the man who pays his salary no less. But the role was thrust upon him, and he fulfilled it, as he always does, with finesse and aplomb. He never misspoke. He didn't pretend to know answers he did not possess. And he never shrank from the truth as he saw it.

Kevin Johnson deserves credit as well, as does Chris Paul by extension. Paul's decision as the head of the Player's Union (the NBPA) to ask KJ, the former Phoenix Suns star and current Sacramento mayor, to represent the players in this matter was a stroke of genius, one arrived at early in the process. And Johnson presented the case of the players incredibly well. An organization that seemed far from united and less than professional during the NBA lockout came across in this matter as the epitome of class and competence and solidarity.

But there's another group that deserves kudos for helping the league reach a quick and just resolution: Sterling's fellow NBA owners. The very group I feared would circle the wagons in defense of one of their own -- even one as vile as Donald Sterling -- did the exact opposite.

When Michael Jordan spoke out on the matter, it might have been easily dismissed by the good ol' boy billionaires in the fraternity. Sure Jordan was the greatest player of all time, but he was still that, a former player, and a mere millionaire (with an M, not a B) and minority (no pun intended but take it for what it's worth) partner -- he wasn't a "real" owner.

When Vivek Ranadive said that there should be zero tolerance for racism it might have been more difficult for the other owners to dismiss.

Here was a man who had just paid north of half a billion dollars to join their club. Franchise valuations would not continue to climb and climb with unsatisfied customers. A cynic might however observe that Ranadive was the junior member of the club and wouldn't have a lot of pull -- not to mention that if the cohort of owners did harbor more than one closet racist, the opinion of a person of Vivek's skin tone might not hold a lot of weight. Besides, what exactly did "zero tolerance" mean?

Then other voices began to go on record: Micky ArisonPeter HoltTed LeonsisTom GoresDan Gilbert.

But the tide truly turned with Leslie Alexander's statements on Monday evening. Alexander, the owner of the Houston Rockets, is among the most widely respected and beloved owners in the league. And like Sterling, he's been doing this a long time -- having owned the team for over two decades. Alexander went far beyond a tweet or two with catchphrases like zero tolerance, went beyond a canned, vetted "official statement."

Calling the comments "disgusting," Alexander said he told Silver he should stab "a sword" into the heart of Sterling's ownership of the Clippers.

He told of meeting directly with Silver, of telling the new commissioner that something had to be done. He even had a specific suggestion -- even if the league couldn't force Sterling to sell outright, they could make it untenable for him to retain the team, and Alexander suggested that the league make all of the Clipper players free agents immediately.

Silver didn't choose to follow Alexander's drastic suggestion -- he went even further. Ascertaining that the other 29 owners of the NBA would support him in bold action against the black sheep of the family, he did what no one thought he could, announced that they would force DTS out of the league.

I've long wondered why Sterling was not a pariah in NBA circles. Jemele Hill of ESPN wants to dwell on why this has taken so long, a question I myself have asked. But that's not relevant any more. It is happening, and it is good. And the commissioner could not have done it without the support of the other 29 owners.

Since Silver's announcement of Sterling's lifetime ban and the intention of the league to force him to sell the team, all 29 ownership groups (scroll through item on on that link) have gone on record saying that they support Silver's decision. But it was the owners who called for action before Silver's announcement, in particular Alexander and Ranadive, who showed real leadership.

There has been no action taken by the board of governors as of yet of course, but a meeting of the owners' advisory and finance committee has been scheduled for tomorrow to discuss the next steps. Ranadive has gone on record as predicting a unanimous vote against Sterling, and I think we could pretty much guarantee that vote if there were any possibility that the votes could be leaked to the public -- no one is going to get caught supporting this guy. I suppose it's possible that they'll all change their tune when presented with the actual vote. Maybe this is all a bluff to try to force Sterling into selling before they actually have to move against one of their own. But either Silver truly believes that he has the support of the owners, that he has the votes to force Sterling out -- or he's one hell of a poker player. (Some folks are just born with a poker face.)

Mark Cuban seemed the most reticent prior to the announcement, mentioning the "slippery slope" for owners. If the NBA starts taking away franchises based on bad behavior, what other owners might have something to worry about? He has a point -- but then again, surely (hopefully?) Sterling was much further down said slope than anyone else. If any of the other owners are looking at this situation and thinking "Gee, I hope the same thing doesn't happen to me" then my question is what are they hiding?

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