Sterling is Silver's defining moment
New NBA commissioner's honeymoon is over and he needs to deal quickly, decisively and effectively with the Clippers racism scandal
The Los Angeles Clippers were taking the day off.
Adam Silver is unlikely to get that same luxury.
Facing the first real crisis of his short tenure as NBA commissioner, Silver is under pressure to swiftly bring some sort of resolution to the scandal surrounding Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the racially charged comments he allegedly made in a recorded conversation, portions of which were released over the weekend by a pair of gossip and sport websites.
The matter will not go away any time soon, but the players' association is hoping Silver rules before the Clippers play host to Golden State in a critical game five of their knotted-up Western Conference first-round series tomorrow morning (Hong Kong time). That means plenty of eyeballs will remain on the commissioner's office, waiting to see if any word is coming.
"This situation is a massive distraction for the league right now," said Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA All-Star who is serving as an adviser to the National Basketball Players Association while the Sterling matter plays out. "It must be addressed immediately."
Silver's first priority is verifying Sterling's voice is on the recording. From there, Silver's next move remains unclear. He works for the owners - and so far they seem to have no sympathy for Sterling's latest controversy.
Among those who have spoken out publicly to condemn the alleged remarks: Washington's Ted Leonsis, Miami's Micky Arison and perhaps most notably, Charlotte's Michael Jordan, who won six NBA titles as a player.
"I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views," Jordan said. "I'm confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly."
Silver started as commissioner on February 1, replacing the retired David Stern. Silver met Johnson on Sunday and heard five things the players' union wants from the commissioner. That list includes:
- Sterling does not attend any NBA games for the rest of the play-offs because of the "enormous distraction".
- A full account of past allegations of discrimination by Sterling and why the league never sanctioned him.
- An explanation of the range of penalties the league could bring against Sterling.
- Assurance the NBA and the union will be partners in the investigation.
- A decisive ruling.
"He's got to come down hard," Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, who was referred to on the audio recording, said.
The NBA constitution is not public, though it is understood the commissioner's powers are broad when it comes to dealing with matters deemed "prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball".
A fine, a suspension, a demand for sensitivity training, all those and more are surely at Silver's disposal.
Meanwhile, more audio may be coming. An employee in the office of lawyer Mac Nehoray, who represents the woman allegedly on the tape, said the full recording lasts about an hour. The clips released so far are significantly shorter than that.
The lawyer's office also insists that the recording is legitimate and that Sterling, 80, is the man on the tape.
Some players feel for Silver, considering the magnitude of the task he is facing.
"What, he's been three months on the job? And he has to deal with an issue like this," Washington's Garrett Temple said of Silver. "It's unfair to him ... It's going to be a difficult situation for him to take care of, and he's probably going to act swiftly as he said. And he needs to do so."
Sterling has been the subject of many past controversies, but this, particularly at play-off time and with his own team potential title contenders, has perhaps generated more outcry than the others combined.
The next move will be made by Silver. "This is a defining moment for the league," Kevin Johnson said. "It's a defining moment for the commissioner."