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Sterling scandal: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's moment to shine

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
April 30, 2014 -- Updated 0231 GMT (1031 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Donald Sterling controversy was Adam Silver's first major test as NBA commissioner
  • Analyst: Silver handled the scandal over Sterling's racist comments "spectacularly"
  • A key part of Silver's philosophy: No individual is greater than the team
  • Silver grew up as a New York Knicks fan and has worked for the NBA for 22 years

(CNN) -- At 6'3", he's tall enough to slam dunk, and supporters say that's exactly what Adam Silver did when he announced a $2.5 million fine and banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life from the NBA.

Silver, 52, is just three months into his tenure as NBA commissioner, and the scandal over Sterling's racist comments is the first major test he's faced as the league's leader.

In an interview with CNN's partner website Bleacher Report earlier this year, Silver described himself as a subdued basketball fan who was more likely to quietly observe than shout at the court.

But he was anything but subdued on Tuesday, leaving no room for interpretation as he announced Sterling's punishment and firmly declared that the Clippers owner's views "have no place in the NBA."

Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced he will sell the team in light of an offensive email he sent. Levenson is not the first sports team owner to face the consequences of his actions: Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced he will sell the team in light of an offensive email he sent. Levenson is not the first sports team owner to face the consequences of his actions:
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From inside and outside the league, praise for Silver's swift, decisive move came as fast as the condemnation of Sterling's comments.

"Kudos to Adam Silver," Grantland editor-in-chief and sports commentator Bill Simmons said in a Twitter post. "That was such an important moment for the NBA (and for him, too) and he handled it spectacularly."

Silver is known within the league as a consensus builder, and he commanded respect in various roles with the organization over the past 22 years, according to Bleacher Report.

One key part of his philosophy: Basketball is a team game.

Growing up a diehard New York Knicks fan, he remembers watching players like Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley and Clyde Frazier play at Madison Square Garden.

"You thought about them as a team," Silver told Bleacher Report. "There was no sense that any individual was greater than the team back then."

Learning from great coaches and general managers over the years has reinforced that idea, he said.

"I believe I've developed a true appreciation of the team concept and one that, sort of as the new commissioner-slash-CEO of this organization, I'm really hoping to put into practice," he told Bleacher Report.

Silver's also known for favoring transparency.

"As deputy commissioner, he was a driving force behind the decision to publicly announce blown referee calls," Bleacher Report's Howard Beck wrote. "The NBA's move to post videos explaining the league's most misunderstood rules also stemmed from Silver's advocacy."

Silver grew up outside New York City and graduated from Duke University and the University of Chicago Law School.

He told The New York Times earlier this year that he never imagined a career in professional basketball.

"I loved basketball, but I never dreamed about playing in the NBA or certainly working for the NBA," he told the newspaper.

Silver worked as a law clerk and a corporate lawyer before his career took the unexpected turn.

He joined the NBA in 1992 as a special assistant to then-Commissioner David Stern. From there, he served as the NBA's chief of staff, senior vice president and chief operating officer of NBA Entertainment and president and chief operating officer of NBA Entertainment. He became the league's second-in-command in July 2006.

Silver may have a background as a lawyer and a businessman, but underneath it all, friends say, he's a basketball fan.

"He loves the game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has worked extensively with Silver, told Bleacher Report. "People can know the game, like the game, but then there are those who love the game. ... He's very proud of the game and his part in the game. He knows he's part of something bigger than him."

Silver has consulted with coaches about changes and made them feel included, Dallas Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle told Bleacher Report.

"It breeds a real trust with him coming into this as the main guy now," said Carlisle, president of the National Basketball Coaches Association.

The youngest of five siblings, Silver never played basketball competitively but says he sometimes shot hoops on a basket mounted on the side of his house growing up.

"David Stern always says that 'Adam's a facilitator, because he's the youngest child,'" Silver told Bleacher Report. "I think I've always been the defender of whoever it is being yelled at, at that moment."

What the ban means for Clippers' finances

CNN's Rachel Nichols contributed to this report.

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