A Slam-Dunk Decision?

Photo: grade7digital
Photo: grade7digital

Many, if not most, observers have applauded Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA, for his action against Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner, who was caught on tape making racist remarks.

“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said at a press conference this week where he announced that Sterling was being hit with a $2.5 million fine (the maximum allowed), a lifetime ban from the NBA and a full-court press to force him to sell the team. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”

The new Commish hit all the right notes,” wrote Dan Shaughnessy in The Boston Globe. USA Today’s Christine Brennan was even more enthusiastic. “It was historic, and almost unprecedented,” she declared of Silver’s decision. “In other words, it was perfect.”

Others, though, have sounded dissenting notes, saying that Sterling has a long history of racism and other forms of bias, some of it brought to light when he paid out nearly $3 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that he had discriminated against black and Latino tenants in his rental buildings.

So why has the hammer come down only now? “Why this moment, when many people were offended but no one was actually wronged?” asked J.A. Adande at ESPN.com. “Why not when Sterling was facing sexual harassment lawsuits or housing-discrimination lawsuits or wrongful-termination lawsuits?”

Over at Time, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke of “finger wagging” and asked a similar question: “All this other [racially discriminatory] stuff . . . has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge?”

There is no doubt that Peter Drucker would have found Sterling’s conduct utterly reprehensible. “Racial discrimination,” he declared, “is a denial of elementary justice and a betrayal of all the values of American life.” And he surely would have approved of the lifetime ban imposed on Sterling.

But Drucker, too, might have been given pause by the fact that it took the NBA so long to get to this point (while, in fairness, recognizing that Silver only recently replaced David Stern in the top job).

Leaders “require the ability to analyze, to think, to weigh alternatives and to harmonize dissent,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “But they also require the capacity for quick and decisive action, for boldness and for intuitive courage.”

Do you think the NBA handled Donald Sterling the right way?