In April of 2014, Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA franchise Los Angeles Clippers, made racist remarks to his mistress V. Stiviano. Sterling told Stiviano that he did not want black people to attend his games after she posted a photo on Instagram with NBA Hall of Famer, Magic Johnson. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver immediately addressed the situation by slapping Sterling with a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban from the NBA, including any type of game, event or association with the National Basketball Association.
Since the NBA is a predominately black league, making over two-thirds of the total players, the players did not take so kindly to Sterling kind words about them. This incident happened during the 2014 NBA Playoffs where the Los Angeles Clippers were about to play Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors. The players of the team, including the coach, Doc Rivers, planned on boycotting the game until just a few hours before. Instead, the players wore their practice jerseys inside out to hide the team logo.
This entire situation is a benchmark example of crisis management. This was Adam Silver’s first big event in his new job as the commissioner. He became the new face of the NBA. Since he was unaware of the crisis until it emerged, Adam Silver showed great responsibly in the post-crisis situation. Silver addressed the situation after sponsors started to drop the Clippers and more information was leaking to the media and the public. Silver took a strong first step to take control of the crisis and stop it from escalating. He first apologized to everyone effected by Sterling’s comment. Then, Silver did what cannot be done unless all the owners in the NBA agree, and that is to ban Sterling for life and give him an enormous fine. This power move showed that the NBA will not tolerate any type of behavior like that. No formal or informal warning was given to Sterling prior to the ban. Again, this is a perfect example of how a crisis should be managed and communicated to the stakeholders, media and the public.
I highly recommend that not only other sports organizations, but also any type of organization, should implement this mechanism in the future to handle any sensitive case that may be bestowed on the company without warning. Like Silver said, “There is no room for that behavior in the NBA.” Unfortunately, racism is a huge part of our society and is a common theme throughout people and organizations. It is hard to find out who is racist and until the crisis emerges. Just recently, one of Oklahoma State’s fraternities were caught on video singing racist chants towards the black community. The president of the university handled this situation swiftly by immediately expelling all students and closing down the fraternity house on campus. Again, leaders and officials are now starting a movement on how to manage this specific crisis with the fast-spreading social media.
A crisis can spread in a negative or positive way defending on how an organization communicates their message and stance on the situation. The best way to deal with any situation is to address it before it can get even worse. The organization must control the story or the story will control the organization.