I don't think anyone expected this. Based on various readings of the NBA bylaws, various pundits hoped that NBA commissioner Adam Silver would impose the maximum penalty within his power on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. And Silver exceeded all expectations. The bylaws aren't necessarily conclusive or clear on these matters, but most people thought an indefinite suspension and a one million dollar fine was as much as Silver could do at this time, a matter of days after Sterling's racist and hateful words were first made public via a leaked conversation with his girlfriend. So when the words "banning ... for life" left Silver's lips at the press conference, there was a feeling of shocked relief throughout the sports world.
Effective immediately I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.
Yesterday I openly questioned what might happen if today's decision could be construed as insufficient by the players or the fans. There's basically no possibility that will be the case. Silver clearly did all he could and then some. A lifetime ban and a $2.5M fine as the immediate punishment is amazing in itself. More significantly, Silver went on to say that he will urge the NBA board of governors to force Sterling to sell the team. And frankly, that's the answer that everyone wanted to hear.
Prior to this announcement it was unclear whether the NBA felt they could justify a forced sale under the bylaws of the league or whether they felt they could get the three-fourths vote from the other owners necessary to do so. Silver answered both of those questions today. Specifically, when asked if he had enough support from the owners, Silver said that while he had not polled the entire cohort, based on his conversations with owners he felt completely confident that he had the votes.
One of the most telling moments of the press conference came when Silver was asked if he knew what Sterling's reaction would be to the sanctions. He replied matter of factly: "I don't know." But what he really said, what you heard in his voice, was "I don't care." Or really, "I don't give a flying fuck." Sterling is famously litigious, and Silver is a lawyer himself. He knows a lawsuit is likely, and he does not care one bit. He is completely determined to do the right thing.
I have to say, when the story first broke, I had a brief moment where I thought that this could be a very good thing for the Clippers and their fans, as it could force DTS out of the league once and for all. I became less optimistic that it would actually happen over the last few days, but here's what I said the day the story broke:
Stern is gone and Adam Silver is the new sheriff in town. What better way for Silver to establish himself as the new commissioner than to take on Sterling? Sterling is one of the longest tenured owners in all of pro sports -- he's owned the Clippers for over 30 years -- but everyone knows he needs to go. Silver can make a statement that his stewardship will be about more than the bottom line and appearances by taking a stand here.
New sheriff in town indeed. Adam Silver really came through. He went above and beyond and did everything he could and then some. For so many years the commissioner's office has acted in an imperious manner regarding trivialities -- dress codes and basketballs and player suspensions and what not. I've long wondered why the commissioner did not use his broad powers to take on Sterling. David Stern never did, but Adam Silver has.
In that regard, the timing of this could not have been much better. Silver was able to stand up in front of the media and honestly say that the things that happened before happened before. Any outrage over the league's failure to act in the past is muted given that Silver has only been on the job for three months. He's inoculated against any criticism for prior inaction.
The Clippers organization have released a statement a few moments ago:
We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins.
I personally could not be more impressed with Adam Silver's handling of this situation. Absolutely amazing.