First Chaos, Then Clarity

TMZ cameramen and reporters had swarmed the lobby, having booked several rooms at the Four Seasons so they could legally be inside the private property. Outside was even more chaotic. The whole world wanted a reaction. Clippers team security advised players and staffers to stay inside their hotel rooms as much as possible. They were on lockdown.

Across the country, Silver was facing his first real crisis since taking over as commissioner on Feb. 1. A lawyer by trade, his first inclination was to get all the facts. He was in discovery mode: set your emotions aside, clear your head, then assess. His mentor and predecessor, David Stern, was famously hot-tempered and quick to speak. Silver is different. "Adam's never going to yell," one associate said. "If his voice raises, it's only for emphasis. Not to yell."

But make no mistake, Sterling's comments had Silver angry. He might not have Stern's hair trigger, but they share a strong sense of morality and social justice. This went against all of Silver's principles. As he would put it later, "I think my response was as a human being, and I used the word distraught." Within hours, he had tasked investigator David Anders from the law firm Wachtell Lipton with authenticating the tapes and gathering information about how they were made and disseminated. If it was Sterling on those tapes, if they hadn't been doctored or altered, Silver knew he wanted to punish him severely.

Silver had already planned to travel to Memphis and to speak to the media there before the Grizzlies' playoff game against the Thunder. He then planned to attend the Clippers' game in Oakland on Sunday afternoon and the Rockets' game in Portland on Sunday night, before traveling back to New York on Monday. You make the rounds when you're the new guy. Let everyone see you and say what they need to say to you. The schedule ended up being fortuitous. He could speak to players, owners and team officials along the way, communicate that this wasn't going to be brushed aside as other Sterling offenses might have been, tell them he was taking it seriously and something would be done.

He encountered widespread, long-simmering frustration. For years, many in the league had felt there was nothing that could be done about Sterling. He owned the team and the contracts. He had money, lawyers, and a staggeringly self-delusional lack of shame and restraint. But you simply shouldn't be allowed to say things like he said when you own a team in a league that's mostly African-American. No, it was bigger than that. You shouldn't be able to talk about other human beings like that at all. By the time he had confirmation that the voice on the tape was indeed Sterling's, Silver knew Sterling had to go. He also knew he wasn't going to go easily.

Silver's first remarks Saturday were those of a lawyer. He was cautious with his words, saying only as much as he knew to be true at the time. Had this news conference not been scheduled long in advance, Silver likely would have waited until he'd had a chance to gather more facts. But canceling wasn't an option. The world needed to hear him.

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