One of the best opening playoff rounds in recent memory got turned on its head when TMZ released audio on Friday allegedly containing several terrible, racially-charged remarks that Clippers owner Donald Sterling made to his girlfriend.
The next day in Memphis, a somewhat overwhelmed Adam Silver held his first presser under duress as the NBA’s head man, just as news of the death of former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley hit the wire. The commissioner spoke in his usual lawyerly style, which was proper as the NBA tip-toes through a minefield of legal issues.
To date, the NBA Players Association has worked alongside Silver to ensure that due process is followed, that things don’t get out of hand from the players’ standpoint, and most importantly from their point of view that the NBA does everything it can to deal with the Sterling situation with the heaviest hand possible.
Part of why the players and the NBA have worked well together so far has been the familiar face of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Johnson has been in the process of finding a new executive director for the beleaguered union, but he was called upon by Clippers point guard Chris Paul to get involved with the players’ response to this issue.
Sources close to Johnson tell ProBasketballTalk that he is not interested in the union’s head job, despite round applause from people around the league for his handling of the Sterling situation so far.
Johnson was a driving force behind Sacramento’s success in keeping the Kings in town last year. He worked alongside the league, David Stern and Adam Silver to secure a qualified owner and new arena with the Maloof family wanting out of the league. The Maloofs knew they needed to create a bidding war in order to get the highest sales price possible, and they struck a controversial deal with Seattle billionaires Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer to sell the team. The deal was designed to quickly put pressure on Johnson and Sacramento to deliver a qualified response, and from Seattle’s point of view the strategy was to create an air of inevitability among decision-makers and media that Sacramento had a shaky proposal.
It was amidst this backdrop that Johnson methodically used his political background to outmaneuver his opponents and convince owners to reject the Kings’ relocation to Seattle. His team boasted political heavyweight and crisis consultant Chris Lehane, and his network of contacts extend all the way up to President Barack Obama.
The NBPA would certainly love to have Johnson in their top spot because he would be the best man for the job, but they’ll have to settle for him finding the next best thing.