Column: NBA commissioner’s handling of Sterling situation masterful

WASHINGTON — Over the weekend, we listened in disbelief to the the mind-numbingly racist comments attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

On Tuesday, we were treated to Adam Silver’s masterful handling of his first big challenge as NBA commissioner, just three months into his term.

Silver appeared to have done all of his homework before taking the podium to announce a landmark decision in the NBA: Sterling would be fined $2.5 million — the highest sum allowed under the league’s constitution — and banned for life from the Clippers and the NBA. Silver also vowed to do everything in his power to get the NBA’s board of directors to force a sale of the team.

This is what we needed to see. Anything less would have resulted in major unrest for not only the Clippers, but the entire league. Some of the weekend’s loudest voices of outrage (Magic Johnson, Mark Cuban, and Kevin Johnson) applauded the league for its decision. Even the Clippers organization released a statement to convey support for the sanctions.

I personally refrained from weighing in on Sterling’s comments in this space until now because 1) the audio hadn’t been authenticated as Sterling yet and 2) I needed to see what NBA commissioner Adam Silver would do about this once his investigation was complete.

Now that due process has taken place, we can all say without reservation that Silver’s stance is equal parts encouraging and imperative. Clippers sponsors were running from the team in droves. The public outcry is still palpable. Sterling had to go, or else the league would have been viewed as going soft on a man that’s brazenly made life hard on minorities.

The truth of the matter is, the league should’ve taken his past acts into account rather than just applying these sanctions to the shocking audio. His track record is long and repugnant as it pertains to the treatment of minorities, and the NBA should’ve done something about this man a long time ago.

That’s why — if I may use a strong basketball analogy — The Commish took Sterling to the rack and dunked it on his head. Silver needed to make sure his message would be heard loud and clear, not just by Sterling, but by all associated with the sports league most densely populated by black players, coaches, and patrons.

That message? Our product is about inclusion, and an owner with a slave master mentality will no longer be tolerated. He will not represent us, because he will no longer be a part of us.

However, the process to extricate Sterling has only just begun. He’s known to be litigious, and there’s the ever-sticky matter of his estranged wife still owning a significant piece of the franchise. But this is a decisive first step in a much- needed direction.

Perhaps the happiest of all are the folks in L.A. According to reports, the Clippers players are ecstatic over the ruling. The team’s coach, Doc Rivers, has sounded like a man unsure if he would remain in that role next year if Sterling was still owner. Nobody can sigh a breath of relief more deservedly than those guys, because now they can shift focus from boycotts to basketball.

Perhaps now, Clippers fans (and casual hoops fans as a whole) can root for this team with no qualms. These players didn’t ask to be in the position they’re in, and Tuesday night’s game could be the start of a revolution of sorts. The Clips have a long history of mediocrity, and perhaps history will look back on Game 5 of this first round series with the Warriors as the first legitimate chance at leaving that behind.

I know professional athletes tend to turn off the radio and TV to block out distractions, but I sincerely hope they somehow heard the words of ESPN’s Herm Edwards.

On one of the dozens of editions of SportsCenter Tuesday, Herm’s message was this: Don’t let Sterling steal your joy. The opportunities to win a championship are often few and far between, and you should use this trial as fuel to get you there.

Edwards cited the story (or myth, depending who you ask) of the great Muhammad Ali, who won gold in the 1960 Olympics and threw the medal in the Ohio River after seeing the strife and racial unrest in the country he won it for. Edwards advised the Clippers to do the same: Win the title and throw the O’Brien trophy in the Pacific Ocean if the league didn’t do the right thing.

No such symbolism will be necessary. The league has laid the proper groundwork for the team to move Sterling’s name from Staples Center to a place where it belongs.


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