Adam Silver’s first crisis of his short tenure as NBA commissioner has arrived, a race-tinged scandal leaving those associated with the game wondering how strongly and swiftly the league will respond.
Allegations that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist comments rapidly overshadowed perhaps the most entertaining opening playoff round in league history. The recording was first released by TMZ, and there still has been no official confirmation that Sterling is on the tape. Another tape was released Sunday by Deadspin.
Silver’s first priority is verifying Sterling’s voice is in the recording, but his next move remains unclear. He works for the owners – and so far that group seems to have no sympathy for Sterling’s latest controversy.
In the recording attributed to Sterling recording and posted on the website TMZ, a male voice questions his girlfriend’s association with minorities. TMZ reported the woman, V. Stiviano, is of black and Mexican descent.
The man asks Stiviano not to broadcast her association with black people or bring black people to games. The man specifically mentions Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on the recording, saying, “Don’t bring him to my games, OK?”
“I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views,” said Michael Jordan, the six-time NBA champion player who owns the Charlotte Bobcats. “I’m confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly.”
Miami owner Micky Arison called the comments “offensive, appalling and very sad.”
Ultimately, the decision over what to do about Sterling will be perceived as Silver’s, who became NBA commissioner in February.
“He’s got to come down hard,” Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, who was referenced on the audio recording, said on US network ABC.
Some players feel for the magnitude of the task Silver is facing.
“What, he’s been three months on the job? And he has to deal with an issue like this,” Washington’s Garrett Temple said of Silver. “It’s unfair to him.
“It’s going to be a difficult situation for him to take care of, and he’s probably going to act swiftly as he said. And he needs to do so. It’s a very tough issue. A lot of different sides. But it’s more than basketball.”
Even US President Barack Obama addressed the issue on Sunday at a news conference in Malaysia.
But it is Silver who gets to make the final call on this issue.
A lot of people will be watching.