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Silver Handles Donald Sterling Incident Perfectly

adam silver
Mike Zoller

Adam Silver’s first big controversy as NBA commissioner was lobbed to him like a softball. Make no mistake – he hit this one out of the park. The lifetime ban for Donald Sterling was the correct decision and while we can’t just forget what he said, the first steps to move on after this incident have been taken.

A lifetime ban and a $2.5 million was actually an easier decision than many might think. First the fine was the maximum allowed by the NBA constitution. The amount to Sterling is nothing. As ESPN’s Darren Rovell pointed out, a fine of that much to a man worth billions is equivalent to about $55 to an average person. The fine was simply symbolical. The money will go to organizations that work to improve anti-discrimination efforts which is the good that comes from the fine.

The ban itself is what got people’s attention. Earlier in the day people were reporting a suspension indefinitely and a $5 million fine. In this age of 24-hour news cycle it’s clear someone ran with the wrong information and it spread.

The only way Silver could have failed today is if the punishment wasn’t strict enough. So why not get as strict as you can? He knew he had the support of the players and the owners and that was all that mattered. After the decision the incredible amount of media and former and current players voicing their support for the commissioner was astounding. Silver’s legacy was made today just like former MLB Bart Giamatti was made when he suspended Pete Rose.

It wasn’t just the punishment that impressed me; it was how Silver handed it down. He was poised, direct and sincere when giving his press conference this afternoon.  He took questions from the media and never stumbled. All in all you couldn’t be more impressed with a commissioner who has only been in office for about three months.

Banning Sterling for life helps begin the healing process for the NBA. Rumors had it that NBA players were planning to boycott tonight’s games if the punishment wasn’t strict enough. If the punishment weren’t strict enough who knows what might have happened in LA – a suspension wouldn’t be enough. Sterling had to be removed from the Clippers and the game of basketball completely.

Of course Twitter Trolls took to the Internet to claim this was a violation of Sterling’s First Amendment rights. It should be clear that Sterling was allowed his First Amendment right of free speech but in no way is he protected for the ramifications that would follow. The fact that he has freedom of speech is why Sterling didn’t commit any crime with his hate-filled rant.

So what happens next? Silver doesn’t have the power to remove Sterling as owner, however if 75% of the owners in the league vote to remove him then the league can take the team away from him. From what has already been said by owners since the decision came out it looks like Silver has all the support he needs for the removal of Sterling.

Unfortunately for Sterling’s family it looks like they will be out of jobs. His wife is the one who actually runs the team and his son is also in an executive role. To say they are guilty by association is unfair to them; however, the team will want to distance themselves from anyone associated with Sterling.

Tonight NBA games will go on as scheduled. But before the ball is even tipped, the entire league already has a win. The NBA is very good at handling controversies, from Kobe to Donaghy, the NBA gets tested a lot and handles these types of situations well. If anything I would expect ratings to jump for the start of the Clippers/Warriors game that is slated to tip-off at 10:30pm.

I know I’ll be tuning in just to see the reaction – expect an atmosphere unlike anything you’ve ever seen at a basketball game.

Mike Zoller is the Sports Director for He works full-time in the Northwestern University Athletic Department. Follow him on Twitter @mikezoller.  



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