Two months after he took over as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver hit Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling with the most severe penalties ever given to an NBA owner.
Coming into the day, everyone thought Silver would take a half-measure, suspending Sterling indefinitely and fining him around $US1 million.
It would have been a rational but disappointing step, because any step that didn’t involve snatching the Clippers away from Sterling would have felt disheartening in the face of his horribly racist comments.
Instead, Silver took the harshest step he could have possibly taken. He deployed the nuclear option — banning Sterling for life and moving to force the sale of the Clippers.
It’s hard to overstate just how bold of a move this was for Silver.
A source told ESPN earlier today that there were “less than 1 in 100 million odds” of Silver trying to take the team away from Sterling.
Mark Cuban, one of the league’s most progressive owners, publicly stated his opposition to the league forcing a sale. He said it would set a dangerous precedent.
Coming into the press conference, legal experts even disagreed on whether Silver had the power to ask the board of governors (which consists of the league’s 30 owners) to vote on kicking an owner out of the league.
Combine all of that with the fact that Sterling is a notoriously litigious man, and Silver had plenty of excuses to be apprehensive in the severity of his punishment.
But Silver didn’t take a half-measure; he burned Sterling to the ground.
He risked embarrassment (if he doesn’t get the three-fourths majority of owners he needs to oust Sterling), litigation (if Sterling sues him), and precedent (there is now a roadmap for ousting owners for their statements and beliefs).
Silver went beyond what anyone expected, and won over everyone he could have ever won over in the process.
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