la clippers sterling case

LA Clippers: A Sterling Case of Hari-Kari at the Top

Call it a hiccup or a long-term slump; large or small, every brand faces a crisis. The crisis can be brought on by a direct competitor (Blockbuster trumped by Netflix), a sudden shift in consumer habits (The Beatle haircut on Brylcreem Hairdressing), a product recall (GM’s ignition switches), the mishandling of an environmental disaster (BP‘s oil spill), or the personal misbehavior of an executive.

As for the misbehavior of a chief executive, Donald Sterling is in a league of his own. The racial slurs spouted by the LA Clipper’s owner sets a new standard for tarnishing the reputation of a popular brand. Sterling couldn’t even look to his organization for help. His players covered the logo and wore black wristbands, black arm bands and black socks during a game. Advertisers bailed faster than Blaine Griffin could come off the pick and roll for a slam-dunk. And within a week of the remarks becoming public, the NBA commissioner made a bold and righteous move. Adam Silver imposed a lifetime ban and a $2.5 fine on Sterling.

Whether a serious crisis is self-created or a swipe from the blind side, recovery is never easy for a brand or a business.

Whether a serious crisis is self-created or a swipe from the blind side, recovery is never easy for a brand or a business. Without a sale of the Clippers, this case of leadership hari-kari will be fatal. On the other hand, a quick sale would set a new speed record for brand renewal. I suspect the LA Clippers’ brand will be stronger than ever.

Of course, the irony in all of this is the distinct possibility that Sterling’s indiscretion will enhance racial harmony in America.


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Image credit: istone_hun / 123RF Stock Photo

John Bell

John Bell is the author of Do Less Better. The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World. A retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world's most respected blue-chip organizations, his periodic musings on strategy, leadership, and branding appear in various journals including Fortune and Forbes. John has served as a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. He can be reached at his blog

  • Robert Whetsell

    I believe it’s Blake Griffin.

  • JohnRichardBell

    Yep, it’s a typo. Blake’s the one.

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