Adam Silver did the right thing. He did a bold thing. He also did something that nobody associated with the NBA will ever forget.
In just his 88th day as NBA Commissioner, Silver took a stand against racism that will be long remembered as a landmark day in American sports. With emotion in his voice and righteousness in his words, Silver delivered a historic rebuke to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist comments captured in audio recordings released by TMZ and Deadspin.
"The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage," Silver said on Tuesday during a press conference in New York. "Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league."
Silver, 52, stepped to a podium to scold and sanction Sterling just days after the first offensive recording was released by TMZ on Friday evening. In that first recording as well as an extended version released by Deadspin on Sunday, Sterling could be heard telling a woman, V. Stiviano, not to bring black friends to Clippers games or to post photos of herself with black people, including NBA legend Magic Johnson, on her Instagram account. With the scandal gaining national attention and Sterling even drawing the ire of President Barack Obama, Silver announced on Saturday that the NBA was investigating the authenticity of the recordings and promised to act quickly. After confirming that Sterling was the man heard on the recordings, Silver issued a heartfelt apology to the NBA's fans, players and partners on Tuesday.
"I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league," Silver continued. "To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize."
CLICK HERE for complete transcript of Adam Silver's press conference
After making that personal apology to those NBA's legends, Silver turned his attention to Sterling. By deploying seemingly the harshest punishments at his disposal, Silver, the NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer under former Commissioner David Stern, ensured that Sterling will forever be remembered as an NBA pariah. He also delivered a clear message to anyone in the NBA who holds views similar to those expressed by Sterling.
"Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team."
Silver, who just took over for Stern in February following unanimous approval by the NBA Board of Governors, was just getting started.
"I am also fining Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution," Sterling continued. "These funds will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and its Players Association."
By levying a lifetime ban from the NBA and the maximum fine permitted against Sterling, Silver may have satisfied some of those outraged. He kept going.
"As for Mr. Sterling's ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens," Silver said.
Following the press conference, past and present NBA players lauded Silver's response to the first major test of his tenure as the leader of the league.
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Sterling, 80, bought the Clippers in 1981 and is the longest-tenured franchise owner in the NBA. Over the years, Sterling's team has floundered and he has been accused of racism on multiple occasions. A lawyer and later a real-estate mogul, Sterling faced housing-discrimination charges brought by the Department of Justice in 2006 and ultimately settled for $2.75 million. In 2009, former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor accused Sterling of race and age discrimination in a wrongful termination lawsuit that was unsuccessful. Under Stern, the NBA was either unwilling or unable to take decisive action when those earlier accusations surfaced.
"In meting out this punishment we did not take into account his past behavior," Silver said in response to a question about Sterling's history of disturbing actions and statements. "When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior."
The power to force Sterling to sell the Clippers rests with the league's other team owners and not Silver. Three-fourths of the remaining 29 owners agree will need to agree with Silver's recommendation in order to force a franchise sale, reported The Associated Press.
"I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners I need to remove him," Silver said.