By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Less than three months into his job as the new commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), Adam Silver has already left an indelible impression on the game.
In his first big test since taking over from David Stern, who had served for three decades before stepping down earlier this year, Silver emerged as a strong leader prepared to take a firm stance against racial intolerance.
The former lawyer's decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and fine him $2.5 million and initiate plans to force him to sell the team won Silver instant, widespread approval.
Michael Jordan, the game's most celebrated global figure, led the accolades. "I applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's swift and decisive response today," Jordan said in a statement.
"He sent a powerful message that there can be zero tolerance for racism and hatred in the NBA."
His sentiments were endorsed by Magic Johnson, another of the game's most respected and iconic figures.
"Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life," he tweeted.
Silver's strong stance against Sterling, who was caught on tape criticizing a friend for associating with "black people," was reminiscent of the hard-line approach taken by other professional sport bosses.
Major League Baseball chief A. Bartlett Giamatti banned all-time hits leader Pete Rose for life after he was found to have broken the rules by betting on games.
More recently, the National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell doled out heavy punishments to the New England Patriots for spying on teams during their practices and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
Silver needed only three days to decide to boot Sterling out of the game, once he was satisfied that it was voice on the tape.
Silver said he had known Sterling, the longest-tenured owner of any of the 30 NBA teams, for about 20 years but his comments were so grave that he had no alternative other than to hand him the stiffest punishment he could.
Before he announced the penalties against Sterling, the bespectacled Silver began by telling a packed news conference of his personal disgust at the comments that were made.
Initially reading from prepared notes before taking questions from the media, the 52-year-old issued a heartfelt apology to anyone who had been offended by Sterling's inflammatory remarks.
"The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful," he said. "That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.
"Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multi ethnic league."
Silver acknowledged the league still had a lot of work to repair the damage done to the Clippers' brand but urged people to judge the NBA on Tuesday's actions in tackling racism.
"This has all happened in three days, and so I'm hopeful that there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers' organization," he said.
"This will take some time, and appropriate healing will be necessary. I can understand how upset they are, and I'll do my best to bring them back into the NBA family."
Silver, a protégé of Stern's who won his endorsement to be the successor, began working for the NBA in 1992.
Before assuming his current role, Silver held the positions of special assistant to the commissioner, NBA chief of staff, senior vice president of NBA Entertainment, and president of NBA Entertainment.
He graduated from Duke University in 1984 and worked as a legislative aide for a U.S. Congressman for a year before earning his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1988.
"I am extremely proud of this great league's diverse, respectful and inclusive culture, and we will not allow one individual's intolerant views to define us," he said.
"Let me be clear: Mr. Sterling's views have no place in the NBA."
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Julian Linden)