The Boss Always Answers to Someone – Even in Professional Sports 

damage controlI sometimes hear people say, with a tone of envy in their voices, about how great it must be to own a company, to be the boss, to call all the shots and not have to answer to anyone.

Those perceptions of what life as the boss is like – especially that last one about not having to answer to anyone – are kind of funny to me, largely because, at some point, we all answer to someone.

As the owner of a small business, I’m the one who makes the business decisions for Geebo. But in reality, I’m far from being the one who calls the shots. The customers – whether they’re the the people who post listings on Geebo or the ones who scour the site in search of products or services – are the ones who are really driving the business decisions. I answer to them.

That brings me back to my point, that we all answer to someone. CEOs answer to their boards of directors, who, in turn, answer to the shareholders. Police chiefs answer to city and court officials. Politicians answer to their constituents and risk losing their jobs when voters head to the polls.

And then there’s a guy like Donald Sterling, owner (for now) of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.

One might think that, as the owner of the Clippers, a guy like Sterling – who found himself in hot water when his racist comments made their way into the public arena – might be untouchable, free to say whatever he wants, especially with the team heading into its first playoff run in decades and fan fervor at an all-time high.

But, alas, we were all reminded that Sterling – like all of us – does answer to someone else. The National Basketball Association is made up of franchises and its operations are overseen by a commissioner who has to answer to the other owners, the players, the advertisers and even the fans. It’s his job to look over the health of the NBA as a whole. And, just in case anyone is confused, it should be noted that professional sports is just another form of business. Tickets, merchandise and advertising all impact the bottom line – and as the commissioner, it is Adam Silver’s job to make sure that anything that might compromise the NBA’s ability to make money is dealt with, quickly and swiftly.

When a doctor treats a cancer patient, it’s his job to remove the cancer as quickly as possible before it spreads and takes over the whole body. In a sense, Sterling and his racist rant became the cancer of the NBA – and Silver needed to go to extreme measures to get Sterling out of there, before resentment toward the whole NBA started to grow, before advertisers started to distance themselves (even more than they already had), before fans stopped buying tickets and merchandise or stopped tuning in to games on TV.

Banning Sterling from the NBA for life was just the type of action that Silver needed to take to minimize the damage – and the praise for Silver’s swift action was immediate. Yes, Sterling is still around, but the message was clear that he’s not welcome in the NBA. The wheels are in motion to get the Sterling cancer out of the league as soon as possible. The fans expressed their support and approval and, so long as the league is taking action to get rid of Sterling, there’s little fear that the league’s cash flow isn’t in any sort of real jeopardy. Silver was smart enough to realize that, even though he’s at the top of NBA’s org chart, he has to answer to many people. He may make the decisions – but he’s definitely not calling the shots.

As soon as Donald Sterling comes to the same realization, the NBA – and its fans – can start the healing process and put this ugly chapter behind them.