Clippers’ Sterling mess a crisis for all, but especially the NBA, and Silver

Donald Sterling has [apparently] spoken. The Los Angeles Clippers players have spoken. Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley have spoken. Snoop Dog, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have spoken. NBA sponsors are lining up to speak.

Now the National Basketball Association, in the form of the other owners and new commissioner Adam Silver, left, must speak.

This is surely a Sterling-Silver issue.

As Howard Beck writes on

Sterling has been sued by countless ex-employees, including former general manager Elgin Baylor, who also alleged racial discrimination.

Court records are littered with stories of Sterling’s vile remarks on race.

Anyone who has ever worked or played for the Clippers could fill a coffee table book with such tales.

Donald Sterling is an abominable owner and, apparently, an even more abominable person.

Donald Sterling has owned the Clippers since 1981.

Donald Sterling has never been disciplined by the NBA.

So far, perhaps hiding behind the gauzy curtain of “due process,” Silver is playing it cautious.

“The audio recording posted by TMZ is truly offensive and disturbing,” Silver said at a press conference in Memphis, “and we intend to get to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible.”

OK, so what will the NBA owners and commissioner do?

The remedies range from censure and a massive fine — how high can it go to really hurt a man reportedly worth $1.9 billion — to forcing him to sell the team, or fire him as an owner.

But whatever Silver does, he needs to gather the facts fast, make a decision, win the consensus of the other owners — who, let’s face it, are tainted by a member of their exclusive club peeing in the punch bowl — and act decisively.

As media and societal spotlights shift from “what he said” to “what you’re going to do about it,” the pressure will intensify. As a decision that will put Silver on the map among American leaders, he needs to handle this swiftly, decisively and with a clear prophylactic mandate for the future.

Sterling’s remarks are not his first expressions of racial stupidity. Surely the prominent players who have commented are not surprised by views like these. Nor would the average black person in America today describe them as unusual or outlandish.

The issue is no longer TMZ’s recordings. It’s what the NBA owners and Silver, as extensions of American power and society, will do to censure and correct this “owner’s” stupidity. There are too many precedents going back to CBS and oddsmaker Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder in 1988 to think that Sterling’s comments will lead to some transformative change in American society, or even sports.

But Silver and the NBA owners — Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in some ownership positions among them — need to step up and demonstrate clearly and decisively that there’s no place for an attitude like Sterling’s.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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One Response to Clippers’ Sterling mess a crisis for all, but especially the NBA, and Silver

  1. Rick Lyke says:


    The Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was basically forced out of baseball because of her racist views. But MLB has anti-trust protection. It makes you wonder what a sports league has the power to do. There is obviously a very limited universe of billionaires who can step forward to buy the Clippers. You would think the LA market would have a few. But can the league force a sale legally? Where is the line (I think the guy has crossed it), but there are levels of boorishness. Other owners might think if they cross the commissioner or step over a not so clear line they could have their team taken away.

    The Clippers had to have paid a franchise fee to the league. What if the owners voted to strip the franchise and return the fee (with some type of interest payment) to Sterling? Would he have leverage to fight it? I bet they could auction of the right to the franchise for a ton of money – and they might get interest from outside LA.

    Sterling’s views come from a place I just don’t understand. It is even more amazing since he owns a team in a league where the majority of players are a color he apparently detests. How can he even watch a game if he truly feels this way? And to top it off he left his wife for a woman who is bi-racial. The guy is not only a bigot, he is a hypocrite. If he applied to be a member of the KKK they’d likely toss him out.

    When I first heard the story I thought it had to be from the Onion. Just proves you can be rich and be a fool. With sponsors pulling out (and I would bet players and coaches asking to be released after the season) the league might not need to act, but it would be nice if they showed some leadership.


    Rick Lyke, APR I Senior Partner

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