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Published: Wednesday, 4/30/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago


Silver shows grit in tough situation


So, Roger Goodell, you feel like a tough guy with your NFL personal-conduct policy?

Silver Silver

Hey, Bud Selig, you feel like you’ll be going out on a high because you knocked Alex Rodriguez low for a year?

And, you, Gary Bettman of the NHL … oh, never mind.

There’s a new sheriff in professional sports. Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA for just three months, addressed the longest-tenured owner in his league on Tuesday and said, “You’re fired.”

The festering sore who owns the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was dealt a lifetime ban, a symbolic fine considering his wealth, and was tossed hard to the curb. Sterling is unwelcome in any NBA arena, in the Clippers’ practice facility and offices, has no say over personnel or operational moves, and is expunged from all league business.

And Silver addressed his other 29 bosses and said, basically, “I did my job. Now you will do yours and give me the vote I need to force a sale of the Clippers franchise. End of discussion.”

Adam Silver doesn’t look like a tough guy. He is gangly, bald, and bespectacled. He looks pretty much like what he is, a lawyer. But he turned a news conference into lawyer, judge, and jury, was emphatic and swift and severe, and made us forget three decades of David Stern’s polished double-speak that helped forge the league’s brand.

Silver, on the other hand, minced no words. His is the most inclusive of all pro sports leagues, from players to coaches to ownership groups. There is no room for a racist in its midst.

He did exactly what he had to do. But Silver had options, mind you, in the touchy situation of dealing with a billionaire owner who is no stranger to litigation. Most observers were predicting an indefinite suspension, a first step in a multistep process.

Instead, Silver threw the book at Sterling.

On one hand, he had no choice. The Clippers’ corporate sponsors were jumping ship and the same might have happened on a league-wide basis had Silver not forcefully separated Sterling and his hateful, harmful words from the NBA. He knew what players and coaches wanted and needed to hear. He knew what ticket holders, many of them black, demanded of him.

But there is always the other hand, and on that other hand is the fact that the NBA has been turning a deaf ear to Sterling for a long time.

Sure, his recorded anti-black words made public over the weekend were startling and maddening. But in the court of racism and civil rights, sexism, housing discrimination against blacks and Hispanics, employee relations and as simply being the lousiest, sleaziest, most egotistical owner in pro sports he has been a habitual offender.

The NBA has looked the other way for too long and answering for that was easily the weakest part of Silver’s performance. But the past isn’t Silver’s present.

Given the hammer, the commissioner stood tall. Taking on one owner and dictating a strategy to the others isn’t as easy as he made it sound and look, even in these sordid circumstances. He works for them, not the other way around.

On this day, though, he worked for the NBA and for decency. And he did his job well.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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