On the eve of the NBA playoffs 10 days ago, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver proclaimed the game in great shape.
On the court, it is. The playoffs have been outstanding — already seven overtime games (an NBA record for one round) and several others decided in the final minutes of regulation.
Silver had no idea then an audio recording, allegedly of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, uttering racist comments was about to interrupt and overshadow a compelling start to the postseason and possibly damage the league's reputation.
Now Silver, less than three months into job since taking over for David Stern, faces his first true watershed moment with players, coaches, owners, fans and sponsors awaiting his next move.
BRENNAN: Onus is on owners to act
RIVERS: Declined call from Sterling
He promised a quick investigation into Sterling's role in the audio and will address the situation Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET in New York.
Expect Silver to penalize Sterling as harshly as possible. Silver said the commissioner's office has a broad range of powers under the NBA's constitution and bylaws, which are not public.
"The commissioner is given broad powers to protect the best interests of the NBA, and those powers extend to both the players and the owners," Tulane law professor and sports law expert Gabe Feldman said. "The devil is in the details, and the details are in the confidential NBA constitution and bylaws. My understanding is that the owners have given the commissioner power to discipline."
Silver will probably use the ubiquitous "conduct detrimental the league" clause, and a suspension and fine is a potential, if not likely, outcome.
"Any more severe discipline, including a forced sale or termination of the franchise, is limited to more extreme circumstances that don't apply here," Feldman said.
VIDEO: NBA's reputation tarnished by Sterling fallout
USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour weighs in on the controversy surrounding Donald Sterling. USA TODAY Sports
Gambling and game fixing or financial insolvency are two examples Feldman said he is aware of that fall into that category. Forcing or ordering Sterling to sell the team is a difficult proposition and likely would come with many legal battles.
It's best to remember that Silver works for the owners, or as Feldman said, "When it comes to the commissioner's authority to discipline the owners, the owners understandably want to be careful how much power they give away.
"While it might be Donald Sterling today for something he said privately, every owner has to have somewhat of a concern that they'll forced to give up an incredibly valuable property."
SPONSORS: Clippers losing money amid controversy
It's one thing to go against the players in collective bargaining and find a way to distribute billions or raise the age limit for the draft. But with 76.3% of the league's players black and 81% players of color, according Richard Lapchick's 2013 Gender and Race Report Card for the NBA, Silver must stand resolutely on the players' side and deliver a punishment that satisfies them.
Miami Heat star LeBron James, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is speaking on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, have expressed confidence in Silver to make appropriate decisions.
Silver addressed news reporters Saturday in Memphis, met with Johnson Sunday in Oakland, attended the Houston Rockets-Portland Trail Blazers game in Oregon and then flew back to New York, where he has been in discussions with top league officials and the league's legal team.
SPORTS ON EARTH: Sterling can't sweep this one under the rug
It wouldn't surprise anyone if he had a conversation with Stern. The two are longtime confidants, and Silver was Stern's hand-picked successor is for the job. Owners also trusted Silver to guide the league. He is savvy and smart — he went to Duke and the University of Chicago Law School — and worked at a New York law firm before joining the NBA.
No executive is groomed for a specific crisis; that would be impossible to predict. But Silver has been with the NBA for 22 years, has worked in several departments at the league office and played a significant role in the last two collective bargaining agreements. He has been by Stern's side much of the time.
He'll take what he has learned and Tuesday should make a firm decision. There is too much on the line to do differently.
GALLERY: Donald Sterling through the years