Eight PR experts on how the NBA's Adam Silver set a crisis-management standard

PRWeek asked crisis comms and reputation-management specialists to give one reason why they think NBA commissioner Adam Silver expertly handled Tuesday's announcement.

Adam Silver holds a press conference.
Adam Silver holds a press conference.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver gained widespread praise on Tuesday when he banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and put the wheels in motion for the league to force a sale of his team.

Silver acted three days after a recording was released of Sterling allegedly making offensive comments about his girlfriend associating with African-Americans and bringing them to Clippers games. Silver, who has worked for the NBA since 1992 and became commissioner in February, has gained near-unanimous praise for punishing Sterling.

PRWeek asked crisis comms and reputation-management specialists to give one reason why they think Silver expertly handled Tuesday’s announcement.

Brian Frederick, VP of public affairs, Porter Novelli:
Silver decisively spoke what we were all thinking: that words and actions that divide us have no place in sports, which we love because they unite us.

John Hellerman, cofounder, Hellerman Baretz Communications:
Silver hit a home run because he quickly recognized the brewing crisis, and after seeking and receiving support from important stakeholders, he took decisive action to craft and implement an appropriate, impactful response.

Corey Ealons, SVP, Vox Global:
The speed in which this issue was resolved was very impressive. In a little more than three days, the new NBA commissioner heard about the issue, conducted his investigation, which included a conversation with Sterling, gathered internal support from other key NBA officials, and announced his very fitting judgment. Sterling’s statements were obviously reprehensible, but the timing was critical because Silver and the NBA could not have character questions overshadowing the NBA playoffs – one of the most lucrative and high-profile moments in any NBA season.

Howard Bragman, founder and chairman, Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, and vice chairman, Reputation.com:
Adam Silver hit a home run because he spoke with clarity, confidence, gave the harshest punishment possible, and made it clear that the NBA would not tolerate this behavior.

Josh Morton, director of issues management and crisis response, GolinHarris:
Adam Silver made a clear and focused statement that sends a strong message to the players and fans that Sterling’s comments absolutely will not be tolerated. He also communicated with authenticity and empathy, connecting to his audience using real language, not corporate-speak. The decisiveness of the statement and unprecedented nature of the decision is critical for cementing his role as a new leader, just a few months on the job.

Julie Messing-Paea, VP of reputation, i.d.e.a.:
Silver hit a home run because he spoke to the fans like a fan. He’s clearly a "players' commissioner" and that’s not always the case in every major-league organization. He recognizes his base, and his swift and decisive punishment of the Clippers’ owner positioned him as a man of integrity and values. He drew a line in the sand, and while Sterling’s comments could have turned into an NBA scandal, Silver’s leadership deterred a potential boycott of the team and the game.

Jennifer Thompson, EVP of global crisis and risk, Edelman:
Silver took responsibility and acted decisively, brilliantly employing the first golden rule of crisis management: to assign accountability within an organization to mitigate enterprise and reputational risk.

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