Here’s the good news: NBA commissioner Adam Silver, just three months on the job, issued a lifetime ban to the NBA’s longest-tenured owner, Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers, for racist statements.
Here’s the unfortunate news: Silver, a long-time NBA executive, denied the league has ever considered Sterling to have racist or “hateful” tendencies, at one point saying, “I’ve never seen anything in his behavior to support these views.”
There’s an acronym for this: C.Y.A.
Silver and the NBA should be commended for doing the right thing: Sterling was given a lifetime ban and fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowed by the league’s constitution. The commissioner also said he will urge the league’s 29 other owners to take a vote aimed at forcing Sterling to sell the franchise (which requires a three-quarters vote to pass).
There has been some debate as to whether the NBA or Board of Governors held such powers, so this could be an interesting test case if Sterling chooses to fight it, although there seems little reason to remain as owner if he has been banned from games and all club activities.
But Sterling has a long history if racism and sexism, as well as generally being regarded as one of the worst owners in professional sports history. He settled a 2006 housing discrimination lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice for $2.75 million. He was the subject of a 2009 wrongful termination suit by former Clippers general manager and NBA great Elgin Baylor, who said Sterling had a “plantation mentality” (though the case was rejected by a jury).
Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino claims that when he was interviewed for a job in 1983, Sterling used a racial epithet. “Here’s this guy, and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n*****s.”
There are other stories, from Sterling refusing to pay $70,000 for an assistant coach’s prostate cancer surgery in 2004 — the players eventually took up a collection — to refusing to pay a fan $1,000 for winning a free throw contest, until mandated to do so by a lawsuit.
Silver countered that the Sterling never has been found legally liable in any case so the NBA’s hands were tied. Even in the Department of Justice case, he admitted no wrong doing.
This all could have been avoided had everybody considered Sterling’s long history of racist acts and words more serious years ago. I blame everybody for that — the NBA and other owners for not doing more to force him out, agents and players for signing with the franchise, coaches for taking jobs there and the media for not applying more pressure.
This is a harsh lesson about what can happen when somebody, particularly a person of Sterling’s stature, is enabled
I’ll be back with more on the Sterling story soon with a full column on MyAJC.com.
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