A WEARY country has found a new hero, it seems. Even those of us with little interest in professional basketball have sudden reverence for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Silver's swift and fatal dispatch of Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was emotionally cathartic and "viscerally thrilling," as sports blogger Will Leitch put it.

Commissioner Silver boldly inflicted the maximum penalty against Sterling for his racist and irrational admonitions to his girlfriend to stop associating with African-Americans in public - particularly at his games.

On Tuesday afternoon, Silver announced at a press conference that he was banning Sterling from the NBA - for life. Period. No appeal, no redemption, no apologies accepted. Sterling can't even attend a game because he's such a disgrace to the sport.

Silver also fined him $2.5 million, the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution, to be donated to organizations promoting anti-discrimination causes.

And while three-quarters of the owners of the other teams have to agree, Silver said he'd do his utmost to force Sterling to sell the team.

How breathtaking - and how rare - to see punishment meted out without equivocation and without delay. How refreshing to have a pompous, arrogant bigot publicly slapped down.

Silver resolved the scandal quickly and just about perfectly, and stemmed a catastrophic backlash against professional basketball.

Sure, financial considerations helped motivate the rapid response. Advertisers were threatening to pull their ads and players were threatening to walk off the court before a playoff game.

But, Silver's steely demeanor and unsmiling comments also reflected what seemed an authentic moral outrage, as he said that Sterling's comments contradicted the "principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic league."

Admittedly, the idea of being harshly rebuked for expressing a personal opinion, however odious, in private, did give us momentary pause. Sterling's comments to his girlfriend were taped and leaked to a celebrity-news website. If we all have a right to free speech, why did Sterling's opinion cost him $2.5 million, among other things?

The ACLU, which is staying clear of this case, pointed out that the First Amendment prevents the government only from restricting freedom of speech. It doesn't prohibit private organizations from punishing hateful and harmful words.

Silver's handling of this made us wish he had control over venues other than basketball.

What if he could mete out penalties in, say, banking? The Wall Street bankers who caused the economic meltdown continue to gorge on their profits despite the harm they inflicted on the rest of us. What if Silver banned them from banking - for life? We can only dream.

Meanwhile, we'll just have to savor our new national hero, and the satisfying knowledge that, sometimes, bad behavior actually does have consequences.