This was Silver's big opportunity. His chance to establish himself as a viable and worthy commissioner. His chance to separate himself from the imposing legacy David Stern left behind. His chance to bolster the NBA's reputation for being a progressive league.
And he nailed it.
Silver issued a lifetime ban. He levied the maximum fine he could ($2.5 million). Then he announced he would urge the NBA Board of Governors to assert its powers to force Sterling to sale the franchise, which requires 23 of the 30 votes.
"I fully expect," Silver said, "to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him."
In a matter of minutes, Silver became the NBA's next hero. He stepped on the head to David Stern to exalt himself to legendary status. He made the owners look strong and resolved, progressive even. At the same time, he appeased the players and validated their importance to the NBA machine.
It doesn't matter that Silver's big opportunity was created by some Instagram eye candy dubbed V. Stiviano, who presumably recorded Clippers owner Donald Sterling baring his bigoted soul and leaked it to TMZ. What matters is that he responded with the fury befitting the majority population who are exhausted with prejudice and discrimination.
"He's not just the owners' commissioner," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, serving as spokesman for the player's union, said from the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall.
And it wasn't just that he did it, but also how. He could've sent out an announcement and given an interview to the league's preferred journalist. Instead, he orchestrated a production befitting of the moment, and one that surely has LeBron James rewriting the script for The Decision 2.
It was great theater Tuesday, which says a lot in a postseason that has been nothing short of riveting. Silver arrived to the podium late, thickening the tension. And allowing time for multiple news outlets to report the he would suspend Sterling indefinitely for his racist remarks and fine him, in a sense lowering the expectations.
Then Silver, voice cracking a bit from a combination of nerves and emotion, went on the assault like John Bones Jones.
"I am personally distraught," Silver said, "that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league. To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize."
Unless he's a great actor, Silver's reaction was perfect. You could feel his outrage, sense the not-on-my-watch resolve. Even though many reported the league couldn't or wouldn't take force Sterling to sale, Silver took a stand for what's right instead of what was most likely.
And it's always good when someone is willing to stand up for what's right.
Time will tell if this was just theater or how the NBA will be run under Silver. Will, in addition to the overt racism and bias, he also tackle the engrained and systematic discrimination you'll find in most billion-dollar companies born in America's ugliest years? Will he advocate for the lower-income families who are being priced out of the booming NBA industry? Will he expand on the NBA's global efforts and intensify the use of the league's clout and capital to improve lives in other countries?
Those are questions for another time. For now, all that Silvers is gold.