McCombs: Silver drops hammer on Sterling, as he needed

mmccombs@islandpackket.comApril 30, 2014 

This is one simple and to the point.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver chose the nuclear option Tuesday as a remedy for the league's Donald Sterling situation.

And though it's entirely possible the Los Angeles Clippers owner could challenge the lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine in the courts, it was the right move.

"We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling's views. They simply have no place in the NBA," Silver said at a news conference.

Before Tuesday's press conference, when Silver brought down the hammer, several news outlets, including NBC, reported that Sterling's punishment for racist statements made to a girlfriend would include an indefinite suspension from the NBA and a $5 million fine.

I explained to a co-worker that I thought Silver had made a crude but possibly wise decision. He could force Sterling's hand, hopefully compelling him to sell his team, while having a better chance of avoiding a protracted legal battle than if he went all the way and forced him out.

An indefinite suspension leaves a glimmer of hope for Sterling that he might salvage his team, while a lifetime ban is pretty concrete.

But as sponsors continue to run away from the Clippers and players refuse to sign with the team, its value -- reported to be as high as $1.5 billion -- would begin to take a hit.

As a businessman, at some point Sterling likely would make the decision to sell and get out. It would be too expensive to stay.

And Silver would have achieved his goal without drawing a line in the sand and maybe even without a lengthy court battle. These kind of decisions are made all the time.

You can cut off a snake's head or let it bleed to death. It looks different, but the end result is the same.

But when Silver, who only took over for longtime NBA king David Stern in February, began his scheduled 2 p.m. press conference several minutes late, he came down on the 80-year-old Sterling like a gardener might take a shovel to that snake and he left no doubts about whether the NBA of 2014 would tolerate the hatred of a man like Sterling.

A lifetime ban. A $2.5 million fine.

No owners have stood up to defend Sterling. And the players have cheered Silver's quick justice, with his action quieting talk of a walkout.

The NBA is essentially a private club. If two-thirds of the owners vote that Sterling is out, as Silver pushed them to do Tuesday, he'll be forced to sell the team he's owned since 1981.

Silver, a lawyer, no doubt examined all the possibilities of the punishment he meted out. Either he determined the risk of a legal fight from Sterling was too little to sweat, or Silver simply didn't care.

One way or the other, he did what needed to be done.

Sterling's recorded racist remarks aren't his first objectionable actions. And there is a legitimate concern that Stern and the NBA -- as well as the vast majority of the sports media that covers the Clippers and the league -- should have raised more red flags in the past.

But it's possible to commend Silver's actions while still questioning the NBA's knack for looking the other way.

Silver said he didn't consider Sterling's past when making Tuesday's decision. But that didn't stop him from handing down a sentence that can only be described as the right thing to do.

And in an imperfect world where it seems like that seldom happens anymore, he deserves to be commended.

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