NBA Commissioner Provides Paradigm For Action

NBA commissioner Adam SilverNew NBA commissioner Adam Silver left no doubt who was in charge with his lifetime ban and $2,500,000 fine of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Short of additionally penalizing the Clipper’s franchise with removal of future draft picks, this was the maximum penalty an NBA commissioner could levy!

Mr. Silver recently took over as NBA commissioner on February 1st from David Stern after working in many roles in the NBA since 1992 including deputy commissioner for the last 7 ½ years. Unfortunately, he faced a Herculean task in dealing with Mr. Sterling’s racist comments so early on in his new executive role. Fortunately, he acted very, very quickly and decisively! This provides a textbook case not only for NBA and sports executives, but also for new leaders of any major organizations.

Many new executives, especially in the R&D, engineering, scientific, IT, manufacturing and technical fields I cover as an executive recruiter, would seek to avoid confrontation or not act as decisively during such an important situation. Instead, Mr. Silver acted strongly and swiftly. This is a mark of a strong leader.

However, such actions are not always without peril. Especially in this case where Donald Sterling is a lawyer with a past track record of litigation, is almost certain to challenge this ruling and probably will cause a lot of trouble for the NBA. For example, when he fired past employees, including head coaches, he often dragged them through the courts to avoid paying their full and justly due salaries. Often he prevailed because the weary combatants were just tried of the legal process.

The stakes were extremely high in this case especially with the worldwide popularity of the NBA brand. Many inside and outside the NBA, including Jessie Jackson and former NBA player and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, called for major sanctions against Mr. Sterling. With one fell swoop, Mr. Silver seemed to appease them all, bringing back integrity to the NBA.

Please go to for a short video I also prepared on the subject.

What are your thoughts?