Sterling situation first crisis for new NBA commissioner

Apr. 27, 2014 @ 06:08 PM

Adam Silver’s first crisis of his relatively short tenure as NBA commissioner has arrived, a race-tinged scandal that has those associated with the game wondering how strong and swift the league’s ultimate response will end up being.

Allegations that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist comments quickly overshadowed what has been widely received as the most entertaining set of first-round playoff games in league history.

An audio recording obtained by TMZ alleges that Sterling made racist comments to a girlfriend, including urging her not to bring black friends to Clippers games.

In the recording, a male voice questions his girlfriend’s association with minorities. TMZ reported that the woman, V. Stiviano, is of black and Mexican descent.

The man asks Stiviano not to broadcast her association with black people or bring black people to games. The man specifically mentions Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on the recording, saying, “Don’t bring him to my games, OK?”

The NBA and the Clippers are looking into the matter, including whether the male voice on the recording is in fact Sterling’s. Silver called the tape “disturbing and offensive” and promised to investigate quickly.

It’s unclear what Silver could do to Sterling, who works for the NBA owners.

“As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views,” Charlotte owner and six-time NBA champion player Michael Jordan said in a statement Sunday. As a former player, “I’m completely outraged.

“There is no room in the NBA — or anywhere else — for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed,” Jordan said. “I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport. In a league where the majority of players are African-American, we cannot and must not tolerate discrimination at any level.”

Jordan’s Bobcats trail the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series that resumes in Charlotte tonight.

Silver took over as commissioner on Feb. 1, replacing David Stern, who retired.

Stern once famously said that the league decided to suspend Ron Artest — now known as Metta World Peace — for virtually an entire season by a vote that was “unanimous.” By that, he meant the vote was 1-0, his being the lone voice that mattered.

The Sterling situation is more thorny, since it involves an owner, not a player.

The players union, still without an executive director since firing Billy Hunter in February 2013, is following the situation closely. The union has asked former NBA All-Star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to take a leading role on the players’ behalf to address the Sterling matter.

Although both the NBA and the Clippers are investigating, whatever decision ultimately comes down from the league office will be widely perceived as Silver’s.

“He’s got to come down hard,” Magic Johnson said Sunday on ABC.

Magic Johnson said that Sterling should not continue to own a team.

“Black, white, Latino,” Magic Johnson said, “everybody is upset at Donald Sterling right now.”

The NBA Constitution is not a publicly available document, though it has been generally understood that the commissioner’s powers are broad when it comes to dealing with matters deemed “prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball.” Silver himself suggested Saturday night that he has an array of options regarding how to proceed.

It’s certainly conceivable that Silver could fine Sterling, suspend him, maybe even demand that he enroll in sensitivity training. Still, the exact scope of whatever powers he has remain vague, especially since it’s also been long perceived that the so-called “best interests” clause is largely meant for discipline involving players.

And with the Clippers set to play Game 5 of their series against Golden State at home on Tuesday night, it would seem likely that some sort of resolution comes before then. Sterling agreed to not attend the Clippers’ game at Golden State on Sunday, though there has been no word about his plans for any games going forward.

The situation has elicited sharp comments from players, with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant making no effort to hide their disgust.

“I couldn’t play for him,” Bryant wrote on Twitter.

Former Clippers guard Baron Davis tweeted: “Been going on for a long time.”

Sterling has been the subject of past controversies, but this one, particularly coming during what has been an outstanding playoffs and with his own team looking like a championship contender, has perhaps generated more outcry than the others combined. Even President Barack Obama addressed the issue Sunday at a news conference in Malaysia.

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” Obama said. The NBA has “an awful lot of African-American players, it’s steeped in African-American culture. And I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this.”