By John Schmeelk
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The applause and approval for Adam Silver’s press conference on Tuesday has been near universal. The focus of the praise has been over the fact that the new NBA commissioner’s punishment will eventually result in Donald Sterling no longer being the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. That was always the inevitable result of Sterling’s racist diatribe, but it was the way Silver did it that really needs to be applauded.
I wrote Tuesday that the market (players, fans, and sponsors) would have to eventually punish Sterling, since whatever punishment Silver doled out would not be strenuous enough. But Silver was able to get the punishment he needed within the rules. Now, the fans, sponsors and players can move forward and not have to worry about the burden of punishing the Clippers, themselves. The onus has been taken off of them.
Sterling’s punishment fits completely with the letter of the NBA bylaws. Silver fined him the maximum amount allowed ($2.5 million), and banned him for life, obviously the most severe possible punishment anyone can receive. Most people simply wanted the team stripped from Sterling, but those powers are not possessed by the NBA commissioner.
Instead, Silver went by the letter of the law, and will allow Silver’s fellow NBA owners to dole out the ultimate punishment. What Sterling got was the maximum penalty according to the rules in place. There was no anarchy or special circumstances. It was handled exactly the way the system was set up to work.
I understand the worry some people have about someone having everything they love from a professional perspective taken away from them for something they said in public. The theory of a slippery slope is not wrong, and there is shallow wading into “thought police” territory. The NBA, however, is a private league that has the right to choose its members. According to the bylaws, the other owners can force a fellow owner to sell with a 75 percent vote, a percentage that will likely be easily met in this case whenever it takes place.
The sad fact is that now, in the age of social media and technology, everyone should consider what they say before they say it under the context that it could become public. Freedom of speech applies to United States law, but a private organization has the right to make decisions on its members according to its own rules. The NBA has made such a judgment.
Sterling knew when he got into the NBA that there was a standard that all members of the league, from players, to coaches, to GMs and even owners, have to abide by. If those standards (of decency, in this case) weren’t met, punishment would be doled out appropriately.
Perhaps if this was Sterling’s first crime and he was caught drunk at a party on a smartphone, the punishment wouldn’t have been so severe. But the fact is that this private, but now public, statement was a continuation of past behavior evidenced by the real estate discrimination suit that he settled years ago. It was the smoking gun of a bigoted attitude that others had long suspected.
Silver has scored more credibility with the players than I ever thought possible. The way the players are feting the league and commissioner with praise is something I’ve never seen before. For once, the entire league really seems to be in lockstep. It’s unlikely to carry as far as the next collective bargaining agreement, but Silver now has a great relationship with his players to move his agenda. He communicated well with the players throughout this crisis, and now they will no doubt return the favor.
With Silver working within the rules, there can be no controversy here and no lawsuits. This will move forward and quickly be resolved without any sloppiness. Now the focus of the NBA can settle back on the games on the floor, where some of the best playoff basketball in years has been taking place. Silver can breathe easy knowing he did what was best for his league and the sport.
With Sterling out of the way, it’s time for playoff basketball once again.
You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, NBA, Giants, and the world of sports
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