Donald Sterling: Silver's First Big Decision

Just three months ago David Stern formally retired from the NBA. He left behind a legacy of building one of the four major sports brands into an empire. There were pitfalls along the way, but there is no denying that in his 30 year tenure, the NBA flourished. Now, his predecessor Adam Silver has his first major decision upon him.

Donald Sterling shook basketball, the sports community, and national headlines with his comments published by TMZ. He disputed the validity of the recording, but the evidence is damning and cannot be ignored. This leaves Silver on a slippery slope. 

Sterling should be punished by the league. There is no arguing this point. He made disparaging remarks about African Americans - a group that includes most of his players and a large percentage of the fan base. The NBA cannot stand quiet as these remarks become a black mark and black tide over their Playoffs. However, how do you accomplish punishing the man who made the remarks and not the players and fans that suffered through them? This will be the defining moment that Silver faces.

Provision 35 of the NBA bylaws allow for the dismissal of Sterling based on misconduct. This is an extreme use of the rule, but is allowed by the bylaws Sterling entered into when he became owner of the Clippers. However, what is the right move from the standpoint of the NBA? The punishment for what occurred would be for him to make not millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars. Sterling purchased the Clippers in 1981 for $12 million. The current estimated value for the team is $575 million. A punishment of making $563 million seems no punishment at all. 

However, limiting his input and control on the team may lend him to doing something rash like cutting payroll in turn making the team less competitive. A team locked in futility finally moving forward with the legs cut out from under it would not only punish the players, but the fans as well. 

Silver finds himself in a precarious position. He must not only figure out what is the right punishment for the actions, but the right move going forward for the league. He potentially loses his foothold in Los Angeles with the current struggles of the Lakers. Nevertheless, the ramifications from Sterling will be felt within the franchise and the perception of the league around the country. Silver must choose wisely in order to remove this black mark on the league while still maintaining the Clippers interests as well. It is not the fault of the players and fans that Sterling chose to make those comments. 

Sterling is a first time offender and chances are good the punishment will not be severe. However, the ramifications of his words may be severe for the league. This is where Silver must draw his figurative line in the sand.