Adam Silver set gold standard in handling crisis

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver leaves a press conference

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver leaves a press conference Tuesday, April 29, 2014, after announcing that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been suspended for life as an NBA owner after his racist comments came to light in recent days. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

Let me be the last to state the obvious: Well done, Adam Silver!

But you knew that already, at least if you had a TV or radio or Internet connection Tuesday as owners, players, mayors and Magic Johnson lined up to support the new NBA commissioner after he dropped an anvil on Donald Sterling.

Sample Twitter reaction, courtesy of LeBron James (@KingJames): "Great leader!!"

Silver, on the job a mere three months and with the entire sports world watching, held a textbook news conference in which he was clear, concise, clinical, convincing and in control -- having presumably made sure before he spoke he had the backing of every important constituency.

When he said he was "personally distraught" over the racist views of the soon-to-be-former Clippers owner, there was no doubting he meant it.

Same goes for the parts in which he banned him from the NBA for life, fined him the maximum allowable amount of $2.5 million and most importantly made it clear he has the backing of Sterling's fellow owners to force him to sell the team.

Never mind that a three-quarters vote is needed to make it happen; Silver appeared to be aiming for 100 percent.

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It is difficult to imagine Silver's famously feistier predecessor, David Stern, handling things any better, which made this a pivotal moment in NBA history not only because of the sanctions imposed but because of the man who imposed them.

Silver is perceived as the 21st century's answer to Stern, a bookish, mannerly, advanced analytics type who can pick up where Stern left off in evolving the NBA into a modern, global marketing juggernaut.

The question was whether he had the charisma and gravitas to lead millionaires playing for billionaires. Well, that's settled now.

Partly thanks to Stern's unique personality and progressive ideas, the vibe between the NBA commissioner and the rank and file long has had a little different vibe than that of other major American sports leagues.

It was threatened during the tense days leading up to Tuesday's news conference, then restored in the tidal wave of kudos that followed, a Twitter lovefest that would be difficult to imagine showering over Bud Selig, Roger Goodell or Gary Bettman.

With tip-off of the Clippers' next playoff home game hours away and the league distracted in the middle of its most exciting playoff round in years, Silver kept the peace -- and kept the cash registers operating.

But while the lawyers and accountants figure out the particulars of Sterling taking a few hundred million dollars for his team and going away, the strange case of the Clippers' cloddish, clownish head man leaves lingering questions.

The weakest part of Silver's performance Tuesday was on the subject of how Sterling managed in his position for 33 years, even though there wasn't much the commissioner could say.

When asked pointedly about Sterling's history as a "racist slumlord," Silver said, "I can't speak to past actions other than to say that when specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted."

And asked about longtime Clippers executive Elgin Baylor once suing Sterling and comparing his operation to a Southern plantation, the commissioner said this: "It concerned us greatly. We followed the litigation closely and ultimately Elgin Baylor did not prevail in that litigation."

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"Did not prevail in litigation?" Blech. That was the kind of thing people feared Silver would bring to the job. He showed on Tuesday he can do much better than that when he has to.

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