As one of the most popular U.S. sports, the NBA always gets its fair share of media coverage, but for the past few days it was for all the wrong reasons.
The league was in the middle of what many considered one of the most exciting first rounds of the playoffs in recent memory, and new commissioner Adam Silver had been on the job for less than three months. Then TMZ broke the news that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had been caught on tape making racist comments, and the reports sparked a firestorm of media-accelerated outrage.
With ESPN, ABC and TNT carrying multiple playoff games every day since the Saturday-morning reveal of Sterling’s reviled comments, each net had multiple opportunities to address the controversy – and they didn’t hold back. TNT’s lauded Inside the NBA group of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal were praised for their smart but no-holds-barred take on Sterling, which included Smith making comparisons to Jackie Robinson and Johnson simply stating that Sterling “has no place” in the league.
ESPN’s SportsCenter addressed the controversy initially on Saturday with a seven-minute segment with its NBA Countdown crew of Sage Steele, Doug Collins, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. On his Facebook page, Simmons labeled Sterling as “Unfrozen Caveman Racist NBA Owner Donald Sterling,” when asking how his followers would protest.
The media outcry also placed the spotlight directly on Silver, who had to wade some potentially tricky legal waters in deciding exactly how to handle the matter. Initially, Silver receiving mostly criticism for his Saturday night press conference, where he refused to discuss any possible sanctions against Sterling, noting that the league’s own investigation had to play out first.
Then on Tuesday afternoon at the NBA’s Manhattan headquarters, Silver made his first big decree as commissioner during a press conference that was carried by nearly every media outlet, banning Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers and the league. He also said he and the owners would put pressure on Sterling to sell the team, with all 29 owners commenting that they agreed.
Silver was lauded for his quick and decisive actions in punishing Sterling and seeking to repair the public relations damage that Sterling caused.
For Tuesday night’s games, TNT truncated its pregame show to nine minutes, which were solely focused on Sterling’s lifetime ban and pressure to sell the team.
Following the end of the first game between the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls, TNT aired the lineup introductions for the Clippers-Golden State Warriors game, the first in the Staples Center since the comments. Usually intros are only aired on TV for big-time games such as the All-Star Game and NBA Finals.
The Clippers’ video montage preceding the introductions ended with the same “We Are One” slogan that the team’s website featured in the wake of Silver’s ban.
With a potentially ugly legal battle ahead (Jim Gray told Fox News shortly after Silver’s presser that Sterling would not sell), this a story that will remain in the public eye for awhile – the Clippers-Warriors game drew a playoff-high 3.7 overnight rating – especially if the Clippers finish off the Warriors either Thursday or Saturday and advance to the second round.