Tony Kornheiser has been ripping into Adam Silver since he took over as Commissioner of the NBA for being “soft”. That label definitely does not apply anymore. For the record, Kornheiser did commend the stern (no pun intended) approach from Silver in this case. But that’s the thing; is this decision more about Donald Sterling or Adam Silver?
Donald Sterling is a racist. That fact has been known on some level for a long time now, but now it’s widespread public knowledge. But is expressing a personal opinion truly grounds for being banned from the NBA? That fact can be argued until the cows come home. Of course I don’t condone racism, but are we so naive as to think that amongst all major sports in the United States (let’s not get into the rest of the world, where racism is alive and well, including in the form of throwing bananas at African players), Donald Sterling is the only racist owner. 30 NBA teams, 30 MLB teams, 31 NFL teams (the Green Bay Packers are publicly owned), 30 NHL teams (7 of which, for the record, are in Canada). That is 121 teams; is it really that hard to imagine that more than just one of them is a racist? Sterling is just the one who has his views out in the public now; Hell, maybe he’s a scapegoat for some.
But truthfully, this isn’t about Donald Sterling. This isn’t about the Player’s Association, this isn’t about the Clippers’ players or even the Clippers organization; this is about NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. In his third month in the league, Tony Kornheiser certainly hasn’t been the only one to be hard on him. But this is a way for Silver to align himself with the players (or at least to appear that he is) and attempt to appeal to them and a way to prove himself to be a tough disciplinarian of a Commissioner. Like him or not, David Stern did a lot during his time in charge to leave his mark on the league. Now it’s Adam Silver’s turn, and what better way to make an impression than to ban an owner for life?
Yes, he consulted the players. No, this issue is not going to go away soon. No, Sterling will not go quietly. But Adam Silver stood up and delivered a crushing blow to an owner (let’s not forget that the Commissioner works for the owners) and really made a name for himself. Are the words of Donald Sterling something to be decried? Of course they are. Are his personal opinions a reason to be kicked out of the league? That can be debated. As I said recently in a post on my other blog, free speech protects you from the government, not the court of public opinion (or potentially your employer). Players could have refused to play, fans could have boycotted, etc, something could have been done to make an impact on Donald Sterling. But Silver made a name for himself with this ruling, he put his foot down, for better or for worse. Is this about power? Is this about showing off your authority? Whatever the case may be, the fact of the matter is that the ruling today doesn’t totally have to do with Donald Sterling, but it does totally have to do with Adam Silver.