In 1981, Donald Sterling became the owner of the San Diego Clippers, an ownership that would prove troublesome for the National Basketball Association (NBA). During his 33 years as an owner of the Clippers, Sterling had four major lawsuits for racial discrimination filed against him and was accused of running the organization with the vision of a “southern plantation-type structure.” On April 25, 2014, the allegations of racist behavior were taken to a new level when Sterling was recorded by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, proclaiming racist statements toward minorities. The audio recording was put online for the world to hear (mere hours after the conversation) leading to extensive public backlash. Sterling’s comments ultimately led to his demise in the NBA, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced, 4 days after the incident, that Sterling received a $2.5 million fine and was banned from the Clippers organization and the NBA for life. Given the immediacy of the spreading of information on the incident, the NBA and Commissioner Silver knew they had to manage the crisis as swiftly as possible. This case examines Sterling’s involvement with the NBA, his history with racism, and the NBA’s responses to the leaked recording. Multiple models for crisis management and decision making are discussed to help readers develop their own plan for working through organizational crises.
Megan Beth Shreffler, Gin Presley, and Samuel Schmidt are with the Department of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY.