ADAM SILVER'S first crisis as NBA commissioner has arrived, a race-tinged scandal that has those associated with the game wondering how strong and swift the league's ultimate response will end up being.
Allegations that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist comments quickly overshadowed what has been widely received as the most entertaining set of first-round playoff games in league history. The recording was obtained and released by TMZ, and there still has been no official confirmation that Sterling is the man on the tape.
Silver's first priority is verifying the voice on the tape is Sterling's and if it turns out that it is, what Silver can do is unclear. He works for the owners - but he may not run into any obstacles with his employers as so far that group seems to have no sympathy for Sterling's latest controversy.
"As an owner, I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views," Charlotte owner and six-time NBA champion player Michael Jordan said in a statement yesterday. "I'm confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly."
Added Miami Heat owner Micky Arison: "The comments reported by TMZ were offensive, appalling and very sad."
Silver took over as commissioner on Feb. 1, replacing the retired David Stern. The players union, still without an executive director since firing Billy Hunter in February 2013, is following the situation closely. The union has asked former NBA All-Star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to take a leading role on the players' behalf to address the Sterling matter.
Johnson and Silver attended the Clippers-Warriors game yesterday in Oakland, Calif.
Johnson said he called an emergency phone meeting of every player representative to the union Saturday night and spoke with Silver before the game. The former NBA player said this is a "defining moment" for the NBA and for Silver, and players trust that the commissioner will meet their demands. Among them:
* Sterling doesn't attend any NBA games for the rest of the playoffs.
* Give a full account of past allegations of discrimination by Sterling and why the league never sanctioned him.
* Explain the range of options that the league can penalize Sterling, including the maximum penalty, which players want if the audio recording is validated.
* Assurance that the NBA and the union will be partners in the investigation.
* An immediate and decisive ruling, hopefully before the Clippers host the Warriors for Game 5 tomorrow in Los Angeles.
Johnson also said there will be no leaguewide protest by players or any kind of boycott because there's enough attention on the issue already and that players "trust Adam Silver. They trust that Adam Silver will do the right thing."
The league and the Clippers are investigating, though whatever ultimately comes down from the league office will be widely perceived as Silver's decision.
"He's got to come down hard," Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, who was referenced on the audio recording, said yesterday on ABC. Johnson added that he does not believe Sterling should continue to own a team.
"Black, white, Latino," Johnson said, "everybody is upset at Donald Sterling right now."