They say never let a good crisis go to waste. With this in mind, new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered a resounding and decisive response in the Donald Sterling controversy. By enacting a lifetime ban, levying a $2.5 million fine, and moving for a vote by the NBA owners on Sterling’s removal from ownership, Silver went a long way toward cementing his legacy only months into his tenure.
Stakeholders including owners, sponsors, media partners, players and fans have been looking for any sign of what type of commissioner Silver would ultimately become. Any unease they may have had as Silver worked to establish the league post-David Stern dissipated as a result of his unambiguous action against Sterling.
Owners looking forward to the league’s upcoming media rights negotiations now know that Silver has the strength of conviction required to deliver the best deal. Current and potential partners witnessed first-hand that Silver has the fortitude to make tough decisions that will have a lasting impact on the league’s brand– and its team franchise values.
In many ways, the league’s brand is stronger following the Sterling controversy. Crises have a way of bonding those most directly impacted. The NBA’s ownership and its players have been galvanized behind the commissioner’s words and actions. The league has made one of the strongest rebukes of intolerance in recent history. Those currently partnered with the league now have a platform to raise awareness of their company’s inclusive practices and diversity outreach. Companies with no affiliation with the league may now be more inclined to create partnerships based on Silver’s statement about the league’s “principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic league.”
A strong leader builds brands, fortifies factions and acts with their stakeholder’s best interests in mind. Although this is likely just the beginning of not only Commissioner Silver’s leadership tenure but also the Donald Sterling saga, the league and all those involved can now rest assured that it is being guided by someone that has demonstrated the ability to deliver when called upon.
Early reaction from the NBA’s players and owners brought almost universal support and praise:
Courtney Brunious is Associate Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.