Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the scourge of professional sports owners and pariah of social media, has been handed swift and powerful justice. He has been excommunicated from the ranks of the NBA. A lifetime ban – cast off the island, without any hope of immunity from his tribe.
Let the celebration begin, and let us all claim a victory in the name of modern racial ties, for the one-who-shall-now-be-unnamed has been shown the door by the bouncer named Silver.
Not so fast, my friends.
Before we all go patting ourselves on the back and raising a glass in honor of NBA commissioner Adam Silver for ridding us of this vicious purveyor of racial slander, the reasons and forthwith of why this has happened should be carefully examined.
Donald Sterling was the longest-tenured owner in the NBA, and current commissioner Silver has said publicly that he has known Sterling for over 20 years, while former commissioner David Stern — who was in his post for 30 years — was more than familiar with the particular scum that Sterling represents.
Yet nothing was ever done. Through the years of racial slurs this man spouted from between his lips, from a 2006 lawsuit and settlement (the largest of its kind) by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminatory practices in filling tenants into housing, and a 2009 employment discrimination suit by then-Clippers executive Elgin Baylor, the NBA stood silent – heads buried in the sands of denial and cronyism.
But now, suddenly when the financial gains of the league and their collective ownership were seemingly threatened by large corporate sponsors retreating and ducking for cover, the league decided to act. Hollow, impotent and meaningless actions that did nothing but protect the league in a move designed to cover the collective asses of everyone in a position of responsibility in the NBA.
The truth is, Silver had no choice.
The nature of Sterling’s comments and the way they were publicly presented left little in the way of options. To do nothing or to levy a punishment that would have been regarded as the proverbial slap on the wrist would have ended disastrously for both Silver and the league. The public backlash would have been unbearable, and Silver probably would have had the shortest executive career since Mozilla’s Brendan Eich.
And now the league will be forced to face-off with a man who is well known to be one of the most stubborn and litigious billionaires in the world, and he will not go down without a very long (and expensive to both sides) fight to the finish. The other NBA owners will more than likely vote to force (?) Sterling to sell the Clippers, and the years of legal maneuvering and posturing will begin.
What has been gained and accomplished by all this? In truth, not a lot.
An owner who should have been given his final chance three chances ago is at last relegated to the back of the bus, unable to participate in the day-to-day activities of his team and the league, but still able to profit from their success until a sale is finalized.
There was no blow struck in the name of justice, simply one against the threat of fiscal ruin within the league.
The sad fact is that none of this would have come about had it not been for the surreptitious conversation-taping of a vindictive mistress, and it’s subsequent (likely) sale to the gods of shock-and-schlock journalism known as TMZ.
How’s that for irony?
Donald Sterling spent nearly 35 years misering his NBA investment into one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports. Had it not been for an David Stern gift of Chris Paul and lottery draft picks for close to two decades that finally began to pan out, the Clippers would probably still be wallowing in lameness, with Sterling doing little to nothing about changing it.
Hell, Sterling even managed to make the Atlanta Spirit Group look like a well-oiled machine.
But once it was clear that doing business with Sterling had become a financial liability for the other 29 owners and their caretaker, it was time to cut bait.
Ding-dong, the witch is dead. But the NBA is far from being an Emerald City. It’s clear that this league, predominantly played and viewed by people of color, is still light years behind the learning curve in the fight against racism.
Still want to make that toast? Personally, I’ll pass.