When new NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the league, I took pause. I spent a good 30 minutes wondering if the punishment --banishment, the forced sale of his team, plus a $2.5 million fine-- was enough or too far. In some scenario, it might have made sense to hit Sterling where it hurts him most-- right in the wallet. In the wake of a scandal that affected and aggravated nearly every corner and crevice of professional basketball, and triggering a loaded first amendment debate, I ultimately believe the punishment fits the misdeed.
It was widely known in most social circles that Donald Sterling is a bigot. The comments that were recorded and released last week brought years of rumors and heresy to the surface. A 2009 article in ESPN magazine focused on his notoriously abrasive personality, but only casually mentioned his testy, sometimes acrimonious relationships with African-American employees. Sterling was self-made, solecistic as well as solipsistic, and he didn't care what others thought of him. For his growing list of adversaries, however his dismissal from any and all NBA operations is a godsend.
The heft of the Sterling situation doesn't begin to rationalize the stupidity of his remarks. In a organization like the Clippers where over half of the payroll is black, and in a sports league where an overwhelming number of players, coaches, and executives are African-American, there is absolutely no place for Sterling's mindset. Even in the privacy of his mistress' boudoir, there was no rationale for his comments. Naming specific LA sports figures --NBA great Magic Johnson, Dodgers All-Star Matt Kemp-- only served to salt wounds. To not apologize or clarify his remarks firsthand, but rather hide behind an army of lawyers, reeks of cowardice. From that perspective, a lifetime ban makes perfect sense. People will not forget this, nor forgive Sterling in a prompt manner.
I suppose what startled me most about Silver's decision was how swift and thorough it was. He took the reins from David Stern less than three months ago, and this was the first major challenge (and decision) of his brief regime. I half-expected and feared weeks of doddering "investigations" and bluster, but Silver promptly reacted with dynamism and class. This wasn't a time to dwell, but a time for unity, and that the National Basketball Association should walk this off with dignity intact. The poison has been removed, Silver implied, and we should move on. If only Adam Silver was representing us in Washington...