As powerful as a dunk by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s thunderous slam of owner Donald Sterling resounded nationally like a pulverized backboard.
Over the car, in your face, spinning, reverse two hander…Kaboom.
Silver, called out by many to actively and meaningfully censure Clippers’ owner Sterling for his racist remarks caught on tape, did so unequivocally.
If more people in authority in recent decades were as forceful when faced with an opportunity to speak out and act against racism, this country would probably be further along in this centuries-old struggle.
Long-time sports columnist Christine Brennan, writing in USA Today, put it succinctly:
The era of leniency and looking the other way in our professional sports world has met its match in new NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
She noted that Silver even called out his owners to do the right thing.
He punished Sterling in every way he possibly could – and even in ways he could not. He said he fully expects the support of at least three-quarters of the other NBA owners, a league requirement to remove Sterling as an owner. That’s the only thing that’s left to do. Silver fined Sterling the maximum of $2.5 million, he made sure Sterling will never appear at a Clippers’ game or practice again, and he banned him from making any decisions about his team or the league.
In other words: the works.
The rookie commissioner kicked out the league’s longest-tenured owner – forever.
From where I sit, Silver turned a crisis into a dramatic demonstration of transformative leadership. On Monday, when no one was sure what, if anything, the commissioner for only three months would do, the NBA appeared to be a league in crisis. Former players called out the owners and commissioner; current players protested; Clippers’ sponsors beat feet; most owners hunkered down; the media threw Molotov cocktails; and everyone on up to President Obama had an opinion.
In that chaos lay crisis.
Silver calmly and quickly gathered facts, apparently confirmed from Sterling that his voice indeed was on the recordings, and loosed the guillotine. Crunch. Plop. Take away the bloody basket.
This is a dramatic example of turning crisis into a positive. Silver vaulted in a matter of hours from an unknown, presumably weak newbie to a moral enforcer with a titanium back bone. Who’s going to question him? Who’s going to say he was wrong? Who outside of lunatic ranchers and fringe white supremacists would argue American society — not just sports and not just the NBA — took a major leap forward?
Silver showed how to end a crisis and strengthen an organization.
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 mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.