Mark Cuban saw it coming. Adam Silver did not.
In 2014, Silver was just three months into his tenure as NBA Commissioner when he banned Donald Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million for racist comments he made to his girlfriend.
A line had been drawn in the sand as Silver put the league on alert. And while the move was necessary, it meant that Silver had set a high expectation for himself and the league — not knowing that Sterling was far from the only bad apple in the bunch. Which, ironically enough, was something that Cuban was aware of.
“Again, there’s no excuse for his positions,” Cuban said about Sterling at the time. “There’s no excuse for what he said. There’s no excuse for anybody to support racism. There’s no place for it in our league, but there’s a very, very, very slippery slope.”
By many, the NBA is viewed as the “good league.” Unlike the NFL and Major League Baseball, it doesn’t continually find itself in racial or misogynistic scandals that demean large portions of their workforce and fanbase. But just because you don’t shoot yourself in the foot doesn’t mean you should be allowed to handle a loaded gun. In just one week, the NBA was hit with allegations against front offices in Phoenix and Portland, and now all eyes are on Silver.
The league has officially launched an investigation into the Suns after last week’s ESPN report, which included more than 70 former and current employees detailing how working for team owner Robert Sarver was a living nightmare.
“The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” one Suns co-owner told ESPN about Sarver. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.”
It’s so bad that Suns’ minority owner Jahm Najafi showed up to Saturday’s game with Colin Kaepernick as a pseudo-protest against Sarver, as Najafi has publicly called Sarver’s behavior “unacceptable” and didn’t sign a statement in support of him.
If Sterling was first, then Sarver was the inevitable other shoe that had finally dropped. Just days later, a third shoe fell — proving that misconduct inside NBA front offices is an octopus of misbehavior.
“While we cannot comment on this pending matter, we are committed to continuing to build an organization that positively impacts our colleagues, communities and the world in which we live and play,” said a statement from the Portland Trail Blazers, as the team and their owner have launched an investigation into president of basketball operations and general manager Neil Olshey who is alleged to have created a toxic workplace environment full of bullying and intimidation.
The NFL has Daniel Snyder in Washington, the McNair family in Houston, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas. And despite all that, powerful white men in Phoenix and Portland were too arrogant to think that they’d be a similar nuisance for their league while refusing to learn from the mistakes of their colleagues in the NFL.
It’s “problematic boss” 101 — “It’ll never happen to me!”
Silver made a name for himself with how he handled the Sterling situation, and despite all the things the NBA has gone through since he took over, especially in the last few years, (the bubble, the losses of David Stern and Kobe Bryant, and Daryl Morey’s tweet) he’s still dealing with the same issues he was seven years ago. And while the allegations in Phoenix and Portland may be different, they aren’t living in a vacuum, as they’ve both taken place under Silver’s reign in a society that expects more accountability.
The ball is literally in Adam Silver’s court, as we’re waiting to see what he’ll do next. He has an out with Olshey, as he can let Portland’s ownership do the dirty work for him. But, even then, he’ll still have residue on his hands — Neil Olshey used to work for Donald Sterling.
Intolerance’s tentacles run deep.