The consensus is that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver nailed it by banning Donald Sterling for life, fining him $2.5 million and declaring he’ll force the L.A. Clippers owner to sell the team. How Silver did it was as important as what he did. Here are eight ways Silver followed the textbook on crisis management in his mass public debut:
1. Quick But Not Impulsive Action — Sure, three days was fast. But two would have been too quick. Silver showed up at the podium at the perfect moment with the Clippers preparing for a night game and the nation waiting for him to act.
2. Short Answers — Silver didn’t owe long explanations and he didn’t offer any. His response to the first question, whether he thought Sterling would fight a forced sale, set the tone: “I have no idea.”
3. Passion and Personal Stake — You can’t make up a cracking but clear voice unless you’re Daniel Day-Lewis. And Silver connected himself to the NBA with a bond of emotion by saying, “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.”
4. Support, Not a Poll — We all know the commissioner of every sport works for the owners, not the players or the fans. But Silver proved he’s his own man when asked how his poll of owners came out. He didn’t poll the owners like a lackey, he marshaled support like a leader. A poll would have risked backlash from the likes of Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban.
5. Resisting the Tribal Urge — As with other groups, Jews often worry when one of our own commits a big, shameful public act, such as Bernard Madoff’s fraud. There’s even a word for it, a shonda. Silver, as a New York Jew, knows very well that to many, it’s important that the hero is also Jewish. Wisely, he would have none of this tribal talk, when asked. “I think my response was as a human being…this is regardless of anyone’s religion, ethnicity, nationality.”
6. It’s Personal But Not An Attack — Silver, a lawyer himself and the son of a prominent labor relations lawyer, didn’t give Sterling’s legal team much to work with. Even when pressed, he didn’t make statements about Sterling’s character or describe Sterling himself. He might have erred in saying, “There’s nothing I’ve ever seen in his behavior that would evidence these kinds of views.”
7. Direct Connection to History — Many fans never heard of “Sweetwater” Clifton but we now know what he stands for. Silver didn’t just invoke the names of African American trailblazers of the sport and apologize to them, he did it at the single most important moment of his press conference. “To…pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize. Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life…”
8. Strongest Possible Action — The gold standard of corporate crisis management is Johnson & Johnson’s complete recall of 31 million bottles of Tylenol in 1982 after cyanide-laced pills killed seven people. At every turn the company took responsibility and opted for the most extreme measure. That’s what Silver did.