Huffpost Sports
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Daniel Hill Headshot

Sterling Tarnished While Silver Shines

Posted: Updated:
Print

National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver deserves an A+ for his press conference in response to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racist comments.

As a crisis management expert I was hugely impressed -- a rarity for me.

Silver's tone was perfect. His remarks were appropriate and substantive.

The league's timing was ideal: not too rushed, yet not protracted.

While Silver was spot-on, much of the subsequent commentary and analysis misses key points.

Legal Risk

It's true, Sterling may sue the league; he is known to be litigious.

Without knowing the content of NBA covenants, it is impossible to know how vulnerable the league is to litigation on this matter.

But even if Sterling has a great case, the NBA had little choice but to respond as it did.

Forcing the Clippers' owner out is the league's way of applying a tourniquet to a hemorrhaging situation.

The reputational cost of doing little would dwarf any litigation expense, even if the league ultimately loses a legal battle with the Clippers owner.

It's possible that league officials know that their legal position is shaky but are willing to take the risk in the name of doing what's right, while also fighting to save their brand.

Right to Privacy

Secretly recording private conversations is deplorable. As much as I hate the tactic, Donald Sterling expressed racist views during his argument with his mistress.

As an aside, age is no excuse for bigotry. Furthermore, "racially insensitive" is not the same as racist; these comments were racist.

Anyone, especially those possessing wealth, fame and power, must be aware that little is "private" these days -- not email, not conversations -- nothing really. We're almost to the point where one must assume that everything said or written is public information.

Paramour Problems

The 80-year-old billionaire's mistress appears to be driven, ambitious if you will.

I'm not losing sleep worrying about the stress this event must be placing on the couple's "relationship."

According to a lawsuit filed by Sterling's wife, the Clippers' owner showered V. Stiviano with gifts including two Bentley's, a Ferrari, a $1.8 million home and a paltry Range Rover.

Individuals such as Donald Sterling should be accustomed to and prepared for the advances of self-serving individuals. It's simple: Don't take the bait -- it's a scam. If one is dumb enough to bite, don't be surprised to find yourself featured on TMZ.

I tell my clients: The first rule of crisis management is to avoid getting into a crisis.

Thought Police

As inappropriate as they are, Sterling's comments were his personal views. So far no one has produced evidence that the Clippers owner violated the civil rights of any of his players, coaches or basketball patrons.

So how does the NBA have any right to punish a guy for what he thinks?

Easy, he owns a franchise: The NBA has every right to police its owners in accordance with their agreements. Enforcing their standards of conduct and protecting their brand and reputation are absolutely their business.

If Donald Sterling owned and operated his own independent restaurant, little could be done to "punish" the man without evidence of him infringing on the civil rights of customers or employees.

For Every Action...

The swiftness in the NBA's response helped stave off counterproductive (re)actions, even by well-meaning people.

As an example, a view echoed by numerous commentators was fans should boycott Clippers' games. While I understand the sentiment, such an action would do little to harm the billionaire; instead it would be vendors, arena staff and local establishments that would suffer -- at least a portion of those negatively affected by a boycott would be African-Americans.

Furthermore, an empty Staples Center is unfair to Clippers coaches and players, especially in the heat of the playoffs. Why should they be forced to compete in an empty arena?

The best protest, as often the case, is the power of our collective voice -- it certainly worked in this instance.

Additional Grades

In terms of other crisis management grades, I would give an A+ to Clippers coach Doc Rivers as well as his team. Rivers showed great leadership while rising above the unfortunate situation that confronted he and the team. The players were thoughtful and measured in their response, following the lead of their coach.

The Clippers front office would get an F+ or a D- for the careless statement they released the day the allegations broke. Attempting to provide context for the racist remarks by highlighting the fact that Sterling's wife was suing her husband's mistress was poor form and stood no chance of gaining positive traction.

Vengeance Hysteria

Beyond the Donald Sterling case, I am generally concerned with society's insistence that individuals such as Sterling are prosecuted and convicted instantly. Even though things worked out here, they won't always.

Vilification is a high-stakes activity -- it has the ability to destroy lives -- even fatally. We should pause to gather facts and analyze data before prosecuting an individual, even in the court of public opinion.

It's absurd that anyone is criticizing Silver for a "slow response" to the Sterling recordings.

Adam Silver and Doc Rivers modeled the benefit of measured reactions in the face of crisis; we can all learn a few things from their smart and deliberate approaches.

From Our Partners